US troops in Syria
US troops in SyriaReuters

The United States will leave “a small peacekeeping group” of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after the US pullout from the country, the White House said on Thursday.

“A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders in a brief statement quoted by Reuters.

In December, US President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced that he was immediately withdrawing troops from Syria, a move that received backlash from fellow Republicans and caused Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy to the coalition to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, to resign.

Trump had initially called for a 30-day timeframe to complete the pullout, but after meeting with South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Trump agreed to delay completion of the withdrawal.

In announcing the withdrawal from Syria, Trump cited the defeat of ISIS, which overran large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a "caliphate" in land it controlled.

US Army General Joseph Votel, head of the US military’s Central Command, estimated recently that the United States is likely “just weeks away” from starting the withdrawal of ground troops from Syria.