Pompeo: US will pull forces from Syria, maintain battle against ISIS

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

The tour follows the uproar over President Donald Trump's decision to pull USA troops out of Syria and is meant to reassure America's allies that the U.S. is still standing with them, especially in the fight against Iran.

Trump abruptly announced last month he meant to withdraw US troops from Syria, and the USA has sent mixed signals over how soon that would be accomplished. "It did come as a surprise to many", he said.

The briefing came as Trump is widely seen as backtracking on his surprise December 19 decision to pronounce the Islamic State group defeated and start a "rapid withdrawal" of 2,000 US troops from Syria. "A prudent alternative USA policy to the region must be predicated on using diplomacy as the preferred method of advancing US interests, acting consistently on human rights, and ceasing our blank-check support for regional autocrats", he said.

But Pompeo's effort at damage control was in part overshadowed by Bolton's rocky visit to Turkey, where he angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by walking back Trump's off-the-cuff Syria policy.

The program has identified more than 70 adults - mostly USA citizens or legal residents - who traveled from the U.S.to Iraq or Syria to join jihadi groups since 2011.

Pompeo said that the US was "timid" about "asserting ourselves when the times - and our partners - demanded it".

In Qatar, Pompeo is likely to find a somewhat skeptical reception from a regime that has been under relentless attack from Saudi Arabia and its other Gulf allies for its willingness to defend Iran.

Bolton's opening stop was in Israel, where he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exactly what the Israeli leader wanted to hear - Trump really won't be engaging in the quick and immediate withdrawal of all United States troops from Syria that he'd pledged last month.

Like all states in the region, Turkey finds the Trump administration's Syria policies to be extremely confusing.

However, it is not yet clear how this can happen, since it will require a decision of the Arab League to annul a previous decision adopted in the heyday of the Arab Spring that froze Syria's membership of the Arab organisation in protest against its aggressive quelling of then peaceful demonstrations for democracy.

Clearly, the USA administration has a major credibility crisis that is undermining Washington's vital interests in the global arena with the conflict in Syria being a case in point. Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia still have no USA ambassador. "Those are all things that secretaries of state don't normally do but seem to becoming standard practice with Pompeo". He said that Secretary Pompeo "reassured Iraqi leaders that was not the case", prompting a cancellation of Thursday's parliament debate.

Pompeo said that as a result of Obama's mindset, US policies created a "dire" situation that allowed for the rise of the Islamic State and for Iran to spread its influence to countries such as Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, including proxies such as Hezbollah and the Houthis. Recep Tayyip Ergodan considers the YPG to be a part of the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that both Turkey and the United States consider to be a terrorist organization.

Pompeo's visit to Iraq comes less than two weeks after Trump's surprise visit to USA troops at al-Asad Air Base outside of Baghdad which sparked many criticisms inside the country.

While in Israel, Bolton said that the USA would not jump-start its withdrawal from Syria before securing the safety of the Kurdish fighters.

In Iraq, Pompeo also sought to smooth over relations after political leaders were angered when Trump visited U.S. troops on the day after Christmas at a remote desert air base without stopping in Baghdad or meeting any Iraqi officials.

A draft paper outlining United States plans for withdrawing from Syria includes leaving troops in place at a position near the Iraqi and Jordanian border seen as a key stopgap against Iranian entrenchment in the country.

The U.S. military is going ahead with plans for a withdraw of all American troops from Syria despite a shifting timetable, and a U.S. -Turkey rift that might delay the pullout, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

"Bolton's remarks in Israel are not acceptable". By Tuesday evening, Erdogan was declining a meeting with the U.S. national security adviser who had arrived to the Turkish capital.

"We always do and now is the time".

This week, top administration officials are busy travelling the Middle East in a grand effort to ensure Washington's friends that the U.S. remains committed to defeating the so-called Islamic State (Daesh), pushing back against Iran, and protecting American allies.

"This isn't a change of mission", Pompeo said.

In Cairo, Pompeo praised Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi for his "efforts to promote religious freedom". Others called it a breach of diplomatic norms at the least.

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