U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday that U.S. troops will remain in Syria until Washington accomplishes certain key goals, indicating the Trump administration is preparing for a long-term military presence in the war-torn country.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Haley said President Donald Trump had identified three objectives for Syria: the total defeat of the Islamic State, ensuring chemical weapons can’t be used in any way that harms U.S. interests, and establishing “good grounds” to watch what Iran is doing in the region.
The Trump administration would like to see U.S. troops come home but “we’re not going to leave until we know we have accomplished those things,” Haley told Fox News host Chris Wallace.
Haley’s comments mark a complete reversal from Trump’s own public statements on Syria policy just weeks ago. Earlier in April, he told an audience of supporters that U.S. troops were on the verge of completely defeating ISIS and would be coming home “very soon.” The president also expressed a desire to withdraw from Syria in meetings with national security staff, telling military commanders to prepare to finish the anti-ISIS mission in six months or less.
That narrow focus on ISIS appears to have broadened in the wake of a suspected chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime against civilians on April 7. The U.S., along with Britain and France, launched missile strikes late Friday against Syrian targets in retaliation for the attack, and Trump said Western allies were prepared to “sustain” the response to prevent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons again.
A third goal, countering Iran’s ambitions in Syria, also points to an indefinite U.S. military presence there. Though Trump always been hawkish on Iran, particularly in regards to the 2015 nuclear deal, he has recently become more vocal in calling out the Iranian regime in the context of the Syrian war.
In his address announcing the missile strikes on Friday night, Trump said Iran bore responsibility for the chemical attack as much as the Assad regime and its ally Russia. He also tied the American military mission in Syria to beating back Iranian influence there, saying the U.S. would work to “ensure that Iran does not profit from the eradication of ISIS.”
The Trump administration is “very invested” in the Geneva peace talks, Haley said Sunday, referring to ongoing negotiations aimed at bringing Syria’s seven year civil war to an end. American troops will stay in Syria until U.S. allies show they are “doing more” to reach a political solution to the conflict.
“Be very clear, if we leave, when we leave, it will be because we know that everything is moving forward,” Haley told Wallace.
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