Trump Addresses Anti-ISIS Coalition, Explains U.S. Withdrawal From Syria

Feb 6, 2019
Originally published on February 6, 2019 9:05 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When President Trump announced in December that he would pull troops out of Syria, he said the U.S. had defeated ISIS there. Today he says the U.S. has almost defeated ISIS.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It should be formally announced sometime probably next week that we will have a hundred percent of the caliphate.

KELLY: The president was addressing diplomats from dozens of nations that are part of the anti-ISIS coalition. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that his secretary of state is trying to reassure them the U.S. is still in the fight.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Flags of the 74 coalition countries line the wall behind Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who seemed eager to show how large the group is.

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MIKE POMPEO: To our newest members Kenya and Fiji, welcome to the fight.

KELEMEN: Pompeo says this fight is changing and will require countries to be more nimble, to share intelligence and to pitch in to stabilize areas that ISIS once controlled. The Trump administration cut funding in northern Syria, and Pompeo now speaks of a $350 million shortfall, which he's hoping others will fill.

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POMPEO: ISIS remains a menace, one that is our generation's responsibility to stop.

KELEMEN: The secretary of state is reassuring partners that what he calls the drawdown of U.S. troops will be well-coordinated. A Syria expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Mona Yacoubian, says he's in an awkward spot.

MONA YACOUBIAN: It certainly does put the U.S. in a difficult position to be making asks of others in the coalition while also signaling that there's a clear end to our presence on the ground.

KELEMEN: Kurdish fighters who helped the U.S. battle ISIS in Syria are nervous about a threatened attack by neighboring Turkey, which views some Kurdish groups as terrorists. U.S. officials say they are negotiating with Turkey about a buffer zone, though they won't say who would police that. And Yacoubian has her doubts.

YACOUBIAN: The U.S. has played a very important role in terms of serving as a buffer between Turkey and the Kurds. We have the respect and the trust of both parties. And so without a U.S. presence on the ground there, it's very difficult to see how that buffer zone can be implemented.

KELEMEN: President Trump didn't mention anything about that when he spoke to the diplomats gathered at the State Department.

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TRUMP: We look forward to giving our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome back home.

KELEMEN: Trump says he's counting on coalition partners to step up the fight against the remnants of ISIS. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.