US Officials Send Mixed Messages on Withdrawal of Troops from Syria

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In this picture taken on Thursday, March 29, 2018, a fighter, second from right, of U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council stands next to U.S. humvee at a U.S. troop's outpost on a road leading to the front line between Syrian Manbij Military Council fighters and Turkish-backed fighters, at Halawanji village, north of Manbij town, Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
In this picture taken on Thursday, March 29, 2018, a fighter, second from right, of U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council stands next to U.S. humvee at a U.S. troop's outpost on a road leading to the front line between Syrian Manbij Military Council fighters and Turkish-backed fighters, at Halawanji village, north of Manbij town, Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

White House and Pentagon officials sent out mixed signals Wednesday on the future of U.S. military forces in Syria.

President Donald Trump sent out a tweet at 6:29 a.m. Eastern Time saying, "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency."

The Wall Street Journal then published a story that quoted a U.S. official as saying the Pentagon has an order to "move troops out of Syria as quickly as possible."

The Pentagon, however, sent out a statement at 9:29 a.m. that indicated a withdrawal of the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria may not be imminent.

"At this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region," Army Col. Rob Manning said in a statement, using the same language the Pentagon has used throughout the mission to support Syrian Democratic Forces fighting Islamic State forces in the war-torn country.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan was asked by reporters outside the Pentagon to comment on the possibility of U.S. troops withdrawing from Syria.

"I'm not going to make any comments," he replied, according to a pool report from Stars and Stripes.

Vice President Mike Pence also was asked the same question when he arrived at the Pentagon on Wednesday but also gave no response, according to the pool report.

Then at 12:03 p.m. Eastern, Dana White, the chief Defense Department spokesperson, sent out a stronger message.

"The Coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over," White wrote. "We have started the process of returning U.S. troops home from Syria as we transition to the next phase of the campaign.

"For force protection and operational security reasons, we will not provide further details. We will continue working with our partners and allies to defeat ISIS wherever it operates," she added.

U.S. officials previously have telegraphed mixed messages on Syria.

In late September, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the U.S. would remain in Syria until ISIS is defeated and unable to re-emerge once American forces leave.

But White House National Security Adviser John Bolton used a stronger tone Sept. 25 when speaking about the U.S. presence in Syria to reporters in New York while appearing at the United Nations General Assembly sessions.

Bolton said U.S. troops are not leaving Syria while Iranian troops and Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia remain in the country supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

-- Military.com's Richard Sisk contributed to this report.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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