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US in Syria 'for at least six more months' Open in fullscreen

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US in Syria 'for at least six more months'

US forces pictured station in Manbij, northern Syria [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 May, 2018

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The news illustrates the competing tension of Trump wanting a speedy withdrawal from Syria while at the same time delivering a final blow to IS.

The State Department overseeing the fight against IS in Syria will continue as usual for at least six more months, reversing US President Donald Trump's plan to speedily exit from the country. 

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had launched a plan in March to bring the office under the authority of the global coalition fighting IS. However, his successor, Mike Pompeo, cancelled the plan this month.

The office will remain an independent entity until at least December, when there will be a new review, officials told AP on condition of anonymity. 

The office reports directly to the secretary of state and the president, and the planned shift would have led to staffing and budget cuts that undermine its mission.

Still, officials insist Trump remains committed to reducing the US military presence in Syria. The State Department has ended all funding for stabilisation programmes in northwest Syria on Trump's orders.

IS has been all but eliminated in that region, which is held either by President Bashar al-Assad or hardline groups. 

Some US funds are expected to be redirected to northeast Syria, where IS fighters are still present. 

Retaining the office while pulling out of northwest Syria illustrates the Trump administration being pulled in competing directions. On the one hand, extricating the US from the Middle East and on the other delivering a permanent defeat to IS. 

Trump has previously said in March the US would withdraw from Syria "like very soon". But the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agenices lobbied the president not to withdraw immediately, warning IS could regroup. Trump told aides they would have six months to complete the mission. 

Compared to its height in 2014 when IS seized larged swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, the group now only holds small pockets of land in war-struck Syria. 

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