White House national security adviser John Bolton announced that U.S. troops will remain in Syria as long as Iranian troops did.
What did Bolton say?
While speaking to reporters in New York on Tuesday, Bolton said, "We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias," the Washington Post reported.
Previously, the U.S. had said that it would only remain in Syria until the Islamic State was defeated. After Bolton's comments on Tuesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis reiterated that the defeat of the Islamic State was still the focus of the U.S.
“Right now our troops inside Syria are there for one purpose, and that’s under the U.N. authorization about defeating ISIS,” Mattis told reporters gathered at the Pentagon. “Our troops are there for that one purpose.”
In April, the White House announced that the U.S. mission in Syria was coming to a “rapid end” as soon as “the small ISIS presence in Syria” could be neutralized. There are roughly 2,000 American troops currently stationed in Syria.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's representative for Syria engagement, James Jeffrey, said that the U.S. was dedicated to making sure that the Iranian military left the region, according to the Post.
“The new policy is we're no longer pulling out by the end of the year,” Jeffrey said. “That means we are not in a hurry.”
Iran has joined Russia in backing up the forces of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in his seven-and-a-half year long civil war. Syrian opposition groups had hoped to depose Assad and set up a democratic state in Syria.
The U.S. and its allies have refrained from throwing their full weight against Assad, although they have given resources to some of the rebel groups opposing Assad.
President Donald Trump ended the U.S. program of giving weapons and other supplies to the rebels in 2017. The U.S. has also launched multiple airstrikes against Assad in retaliation for his use of chemical weapons against his own people.
Before joined the Trump administration, Bolton had previously advocated for the overthrow of the Iranian regime.