Up to 1,000 U.S. troops could remain in Syria — more than twice as many as originally announced, according to the Wall Street Journal.
President Donald Trump initially announced in December that he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, but U.S. officials said in February that several hundred troops are expected to remain in Syria to create a “safe zone” along the border with Turkey and to man the al-Tanf garrison, which is located along a supply rote that would allow Iran to supply its proxies in Syria.
On Sunday, Dion Nissenbaum and Nancy Youssef of the Wall Street Journal first reported that the U.S. military is considering leaving as many as 1,000 troops in Syria to prevent Turkey from attacking the United States' Kurdish allies. So far, the United States and Turkey have failed to agree on how to secure the proposed safe zone.
About 2,000 U.S. troops are currently in Syria. The Pentagon normally avoids talking about troop numbers, but Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford made an exception to push back on the Wall Street Journal story.
“A claim reported this evening by a major U.S. newspaper that the U.S. military is developing plans to keep nearly 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria is factually incorrect,” Dunford said on Sunday in a statement. “There has been no change to the plan announced in February and we continue to implement the President's direction to draw down U.S. forces to a residual presence.”
While the size of the residual U.S. force in Syria has not been determined, it is still expected to consist of several hundred troops, a U.S. official told Task & Purpose on Monday.
However, the White House initially said that 200 U.S. troops would remain in Syria, but that number quickly swelled to several hundred, so it is not clear that White House or military officials are able to say yet what the size of the U.S. residual force in Syria will be.
Nissenbaum responded to Dunford's statement by tweeting on Sunday, “We stand by our reporting.”
Read Gen. Dunford's entire statement below:
“A claim reported this evening by a major U.S. newspaper that the U.S. military is developing plans to keep nearly 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria is factually incorrect. There has been no change to the plan announced in February and we continue to implement the President's direction to draw down U.S. forces to a residual presence.
“Further, we continue to conduct detailed military planning with the Turkish General Staff to address Turkish security concerns along the Turkey-Syria border. Planning to date has been productive and we have an initial concept that will be refined in the coming days.
“We are also conducting planning with other members of the Coalition who have indicated an intent to support the transition phase of operations into Syria.”