U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced U.S. troops will remain in Syria indefinitely, even after the defeat the Islamic State, The Washington Post reported. Tillerson unveiled the plan at a Syria policy speech hosted by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Tillerson argued that the U.S. presence was needed to secure five national security objectives:
- Defeating al-Qaeda and ISIS completely
- Pushing back Iran
- Supporting an end to the Syrian Civil War that does not include regime President Bashar al Assad
- Ensuring Syria is free of weapons of mass destruction
- Helping refugees return after the war.
Tillerson also warned that a hasty U.S. withdrawal could precipitate an ISIS resurgence.
“We cannot repeat the mistake of 2011, where a premature departure from Iraq allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq to survive and eventually become ISIS,” he said.
“ISIS has one foot in the grave, and by maintaining an American military presence in Syria until the full and complete defeat of ISIS is achieved, it will soon have two,” he added.
Currently there are around 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, deployed in the Kurdish controlled areas in the North-East. They were originally deployed under the administration of President Barack Obama, who sent them to train Kurdish forces to fight against the Islamic State.
Tillerson did say the U.S. has no plans to intervene in the ongoing Syrian civil war. American forces may face a threat from Turkey, however, which has raised strong objections to American support for Kurdish forces. Turkish President Erdogan has threatened to attack Kurdish areas in Syria this week. American officials said they would not intervene if he did, since the Kurdish forces he may attack are separate from the ones allied with the United States.