U.S. President Donald Trump has said he wants to decide "very quickly" whether to withdraw American troops from Syria now that they have nearly completed their primary mission of defeating the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
"As far as Syria is concerned, our primary mission in terms of that was getting rid of [IS]," Trump said at a news conference on April 3 with the presidents of three Baltic nations.
"We've completed that task and we'll be making a decision very quickly, in coordination with others in the area, as to what we will do."
The mission is "very costly for our country and it helps other countries a helluva lot more than it helps us," Trump said.
"I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation," he said during his appearance with his counterparts from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Trump noted that the Baltic states are partners with the United States in the anti-IS coalition in Iraq and Syria, and "we will not rest until [IS] is gone."
A decision by Trump to withdraw from Syria would conflict with the views of some of his top advisers, who spoke elsewhere in Washington on April 3 about the need to stay in Iraq and Syria to finish off IS, which once controlled large swaths of both countries.
The United States has deployed about 2,000 troops in Syria, including U.S. special operations forces who are advising the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and helping them recapture territory from IS.
The Associated Press, citing U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity, reported that Trump's entire national security team, including CIA chief Mike Pompeo, who has been nominated to be the next secretary of state, strongly advised against a hasty withdrawal from Syria at a meeting on April 3.
On the agenda at the meeting was the fate of $200 million in U.S. stabilization assistance for Syria that the White House put on hold after Trump said during a speech last week that he wanted to leave Syria "very soon."
The State Department was expected to spend the money helping to rebuild war-battered infrastructure, including power, water and roads, in areas the United States helped liberate from IS.
Ilham Ahmed, a senior Kurdish official in Syria's Raqqa province, said any decision by Trump to pull out of Syria would cause "total chaos" and endanger areas recently liberated from IS while empowering Turkey to step up its campaign against the Kurdish-led militias that were U.S. partners during the campaign against IS.
Pentagon officials have warned that Turkey's attacks on Kurdish forces in the Afrin area of Syria could give IS the "breathing room" it needs to regroup and re-emerge in Syria.
Other Trump advisers have warned that a premature U.S. withdrawal from Syria would cede the country to Iran and Russia, which have supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
General Joseph Votel told a conference at the United States Institute of Peace on April 3 that the military campaign against IS has been largely successful, but it is not over.
He said the United States has to fight IS remnants in eastern Syria. Votel is commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations across the Middle East, including Syria.
"The hard part, I think, is in front of us, and that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes, addressing the long-term issues" like the reconstruction of towns and cities badly damaged by the fighting and by the Islamic State group's scorched-earth tactics, he said.
"There is a military role in this, certainly in the stabilization phase," Votel said.