US President Donald Trump has indicated that he now agrees “100 percent” with keeping some US troops in Syria, according to a letter obtained by NBC News on Tuesday.
The letter, sent to Trump by a bipartisan group of senators and representatives and dated February 22, came about two months after Trump abruptly announced the withdrawal of some 2,000 troops from Syria, declaring that the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS) had been defeated.
Since then, the Trump administration has decided to leave about 200 troops in the country as a “small peacekeeping” force.
In the letter, the group of politicians applauded Trump for agreeing to keep a small group of troops inside Syria.
“We support a small American stabilizing force in Syria,” the legislators wrote. “We agree that a stabilizing force, which includes a small contingent of American troops and ground forces from our European allies, is essential to ensure stability and prevent the return of ISIS”.
In a paragraph that Trump marked, the group also wrote, “like you, we seek to ensure that all the gains made in Syria are not lost”.
At the top of the letter, the president wrote, “I agree 100 percent. All is being done.”
Trump’s controversial December announcement of the troop withdrawal led to the abrupt resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis and the early departure of the top US envoy in the anti-ISIL fight, Brett McGurk.
US military leaders warned that ISIL remains a threat and could regroup after US troops leave. They also feared that a US withdrawal would make US-backed Kurdish forces vulnerable to a Turkish assault.
Final ISIL enclave in Syria
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, thousands of people, including armed fighters, left the last area held by ISIL in Syria, according to a spokesperson for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Mostafa Bali of the SDF tweeted that about 3,000 people had come out of the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria on Monday through a humanitarian corridor established by the Kurdish-led group for those who want to leave or surrender.
The evacuations came as the US-backed forces slowed down their latest push on Baghouz, the last shred of ISIL-held territory, to allow civilians to leave the tiny enclave.
It is unclear how many ISIL fighters and civilians remain inside, but according to local activists, the number is likely in the hundreds.