US will remain in Syria until IS eliminated, clarifies White House

WASHINGTON/PARIS/BEIRUT: The United States is committed to completely eliminating IS in Syria, the White House said on Wednesday, noting that the mission to eradicate the terrorist group “is coming to a rapid end.”
The statement sought to clarify recent comments by US President Donald Trump indicating he wanted to pull US forces out of Syria “very soon.”
Trump complained on Tuesday during a news conference that the mission is “very costly for our country, and it helps other countries a hell of a lot more than it helps us.”
The White House noted that there is a small IS presence in Syria that coalition forces have not eradicated. It also said the US would “continue to consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans.”
The statement aligns the White House more closely with comments made by General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command, in Washington on Tuesday.
Votel said while “very good military progress” has been made in the last couple years, “the hard part I think is in front of us.”
That includes stabilizing areas, consolidating gains, returning people to their homes and addressing the long-term issues of reconstruction, he said.
There has been speculation about Washington’s future role in Syria, fuelled further by Trump’s remarks at an event last week in Richfield, Ohio.
“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now,” he said.
He also railed against the money the US is pouring into the region, saying that “we spent, as of three months ago, 7 trillion dollars in the Middle East. We’d build a school; they’d blow it up. We’d build it again; they’d blow it up.”
Prior to the White House issuing its statement, Trump consulted with French President Emmanuel Macron in a telephone call. The two expressed their determination to fight IS “right to the end,” the Elysee Palace said.
“Nothing must distract us from the aim of preventing any resurgence of IS in the region,” it added.
Macron and Trump also discussed Syria last week. And the French leader has spoken to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose troops launched a major operation in January against the Kurdish forces who are Washington’s main ally on the ground against IS.
Erdogan was joined on Wednesday in Ankara by Russian President Vladimir Putin and their Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani for a summit to discuss the conflict, but they failed to lay out a path forward.
Rouhani said Trump was losing yet more credibility after his announcement on US forces in Syria.
A war monitor said on Thursday said Syrian regime forces are gathering around a southern part of Damascus ahead of a planned operation against the IS group there.
IS fighters have controlled large parts of the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk and sections of the neighbouring districts of Hajar al Aswad and Tadamun in the capital’s south since 2015.
Last month, they overran the adjacent Qadam neighbourhood, taking advantage of Syrian troops being busy with an operation against rebels in Eastern Ghouta on the capital’s northeastern flank.
“Since Sunday, reinforcements of regime forces and loyalist fighters — especially Palestinians — have been sent to the south of Damascus, in preparation for a military offensive to end the IS presence in the capital,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said.
“Palestinian fighters will be at the forefront of any military advance on the Yarmuk camp,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said. Pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan also reported a potential military offensive on IS in the area, but gave no timeline or further details. — dpa/AFP