President Donald Trump may be eager to withdraw U.S. troops from distant battlefields in Syria and Afghanistan, but he won't rule out sending service members back into the fight in the event that ISIS and al-Qaeda rear their ugly heads.
Speaking to CBS News' Margaret Brennan in an interview aired on Sunday, Trump addressed concerns from the intelligence community and lawmakers in his own party that the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria might result in a resurgence in terrorist activity.
“The concern in here by your intelligence chiefs, though, is that you could in that vacuum see a resurgence of ISIS …. see a resurgence of terror groups like Al-Qaeda,” Brennan said.
“And you know what we'll do? We'll come back if we have to,” Trump responded. “We have very fast airplanes, we have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly, and I'm not leaving. ”
“You're going to always have pockets of something. What– you're going to have people, like the one armed man who blew up a restaurant. You're going to have pockets,” he added. “But you're not going to keep armies there because you have a few people. Or you even have fairly reasonable numbers of people. We've been there for many, many years. We were supposed to be in Syria for four months. We've been there for years.”
Coalition Forces conduct a patrol along a portion of an established de-confliction zone in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve in the Dayr Az Zawr Province, Syria, Dec. 23, 2018
(U.S. Army/Sgt. Arjenis Nunez)
When questioned by Brennan on the ongoing U.S. peace talks with the Taliban, Trump echoes his sentiments on a Syria withdrawal: We've been fighting in Afghanistan forever, and it's time to go.
“We've been there for 19 years, almost, we are fighting very well. We're fighting harder than ever before. And I think that they will- I think they're tired and, I think everybody's tired,” he said. “We got to get out of these endless wars and bring our folks back home. Now, that doesn't mean we're not going to be watching with intelligence. We're going to be watching, and watching closely.”
Trump's statements come amid concerns of a repeat of ISIS's initial rise in Iraq following the 2011 U.S. troop withdrawal. The Worldwide Threat Assessment released by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Tuesday challenged Trump's assertion of ISIS's “defeat” in Syria, stating that despite territorial losses ISIS “will seek to exploit Sunni grievances, societal instability, and stretched security forces to regain territory in Iraq and Syria in the long term.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed that sentiment on Thursday. “I believe the threats remain,” he said. “ISIS and al Qaeda have yet to be defeated. And American national security interests require continued commitment to our missions there.”
On Friday, Trump hit back at both his intelligence chiefs and McConnell in a series of tweets.
“Syria was loaded with ISIS until I came along. We will soon have destroyed 100 percent of the Caliphate, but will be watching them closely,” he wrote. “It is now time to start coming home and, after many years, spending our money wisely.”