By Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt
WASHINGTON (New York Times) — For nine months, the Pentagon played down the presence of its 1,000 troops in Syria, hoping that President Trump would not focus on the extent to which the American military was continuing to fight the Islamic State despite his order in December to pull out.
On Sunday, October 6, the president appeared to say he had had enough.
Now, for the second time in less than a year, the Defense Department, the State Department, Congress and staff across the national security establishment are scrambling to respond to the words of a president who views Syria and the fight against ISIS as a battle largely won and done for American troops. On Monday, after a White House announcement the night before that Mr. Trump was moving American troops out of the way of a threatened Turkish incursion into Syria, Defense Department officials were struggling to put their already piecemeal Syria military strategy back together again.
It will not be easy. Caught between furious Kurdish allies who see Mr. Trump’s announcement as abandonment, an authoritarian Turkish leader who may take Mr. Trump’s words as tacit permission to move against Kurds in northern Syria, and an American president who has made clear he wants out of the region, the Pentagon is approaching a junction that the military feared was coming for some time.
The Defense Department “made lemonade out of lemons” the first time Mr. Trump announced a Syria withdrawal, said Derek Chollet, an assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration. The Pentagon withdrew 1,000 of its 2,000 troops, moved some command elements to Iraq, and continued to aid Kurdish fighters still fighting the Islamic State and holding some 11,000 Islamic State prisoners of war.