Amid criticism of Syria withdrawal, Trump says US 'slowly' sending troops home
Donald Trump has appeared to hit the brakes on his pledge to pull American forces out of Syria, saying his administration was "slowly sending our troops back home" amid concerns from members of his own Republican party that a hasty withdrawal from the country is not in US interests.
The US president struck out at his critics on Monday in a series of tweets defending his contentious decision, which he said fulfils a campaign promise.
"If anybody but Donald Trump did what I did in Syria, which was an ISIS loaded mess when I became President, they would be a national hero. ISIS is mostly gone, we’re slowly sending our troops back home to be with their families, while at the same time fighting ISIS remnants," he tweeted.
The president's comments come a day after senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he would try to persuade Trump to reconsider his order for a total US military pullout from Syria and to leave some troops there.
On 19 December, Trump announced plans to pull about 2,000 US troops out of Syria, where they have waged a campaign in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group.
The White House said at the time that it had already started withdrawing troops as the battle against IS was moving into a new phase.
However, on Sunday, Graham warned that removing all US forces would hurt US security by allowing IS to rebuild, betraying US-backed Kurdish fighters battling remnants of the group, and enhancing Iran's ability to threaten Israel, AFP news agency reported.
Graham said he would ask Trump "to sit down with his generals and reconsider how to do this. Slow this down. Make sure we get it right. Make sure [IS] never comes back. Don't turn Syria over to the Iranians".
"I want to fight the war in the enemy's backyard, not ours," Graham said in an interview on CNN's Sunday morning State of the Union show.
He later emerged from a meeting with Trump at the White House saying the president had promised to stay in Syria to finish the job of destroying IS.
"The president understands the need to finish the job," Graham told reporters.