The US military is preparing to withdraw all of its forces from Syria by the end of April, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
Citing former and current US officials, the newspaper reported on Thursday that unless the Trump administration changed course, the military plans to pull a significant portion of its 2,000 troops out by mid-March, with a full withdrawal coming by the end of April.
The Pentagon declined to comment on the plans.
“We are not discussing the timeline of the US withdrawal from Syria,” Navy Commander Sean Robertson told the paper.
In a surprise move in December, US President Donald Trump confounded his own national security team and some of Washington’s allies by announcing the end of the US troops’ presence in wan-torn Syria, declaring that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group had been defeated there.
But amid an outcry in Congress, he later appeared to have backtracked on the decision, while no clear timetable has officially been set.
Earlier this week, Trump said he believed that very soon he would be able to declare the defeat of the “physical caliphate” of ISIL.
“I want to wait for the official word, I don’t want to say it too early,” Trump said at a gathering of 79 countries partnering with the United States against ISIL in Washington, DC.
Officials from several European countries have expressed concern about a potential “vacuum” once the US withdraws.
Meanwhile, fighting against ISIL continues in Syria, with US-backed local forces, comprised largely of Kurdish and Arab fighters, pushing into the last stronghold still held by the group in the far east of the country.
Kurdish forces, and their backers in the US Congress, have increasingly expressed concern that without the US military as a buffer Turkey would follow through on threats to attack them. Trump has been in regular contact with Turkey.
Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister who also attended the conference on ISIL in the US capital, said on Wednesday there was still little clarity on the details of the Trump administration’s planned withdrawal from Syria and the creation of a “safe zone” in the northeastern part of the country.