Donald Trump
Donald Trump Reuters

President Donald Trump won’t insist on a full withdrawal of US forces from Syria – at least not right away.

In an interview with CBS set to be aired Sunday, Trump cited concern for Israel’s security and other US interests in the region as reason to keep some American forces stationed in Syria for the time being.

Trump said that the US-led coalition in the Middle East, which has fought ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq, had liberated nearly all of the territory once held by the terror group, and that most of the roughly 2,000 American troops in Syria could be pulled out soon.

But Trump also said that the US would retain a presence in the area, likely referring to the Al-Tanf base in eastern Syria. In the past, National Security Advisor John Bolton suggested the US could retain a foothold at Al-Tanf even after the pullout from Syria.

US forces are “starting to” return home, Trump said in the interview, “they'll be going to our base in Iraq, and ultimately some will be coming home. But we're going to be there and we're going to be staying.”

The president cited concerns for Israel’s security as one of the reasons the US withdrawal from Syria would not be immediate.

“We have to protect Israel. We have to protect other things that we have. But we're- yeah, they'll be coming back in a matter of time. Look, we're protecting the world.”

President Trump also vowed to return US forces quickly to the region should there be a resurgence in terror groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS.

“We'll come back if we have to. We have very fast airplanes, we have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly, and I'm not leaving. We have a base in Iraq and the base is a fantastic edifice. I mean I was there recently, and I couldn't believe the money that was spent on these massive runways. And these- I've rarely seen anything like it. And it's there. And we'll be there. And frankly, we're hitting the caliphate from Iraq and as we slowly withdraw from Syria.”

In December, President Trump ordered the US to withdraw all American forces from Syria within 30 days.

US allies in the region expressed concern the sudden American withdrawal could leave a vacuum which would be filled by Iranian forces and Iranian-backed militias in Syria.

Following consultations with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), President Trump agreed to slow the withdrawal, pushing off the pullout deadline by three months.

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