WASHINGTON: The US has started to withdraw its troops from Syria, the White House said Wednesday, asserting that it has defeated the Islamic State terror group in the strife-torn country.
"We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency," US President Donald Trump tweeted soon after which the White House announced that its troops have started returning from Syria.
"Five years ago, ISIS was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate.
These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
She said the United States troops have started returning home.
"The US and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders," she said.
"The Coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over," said Dana W White, Defense Department chief spokesperson.
"We have started the process of returning US troops home from Syria as we transition to the next phase of the campaign.
For force protection and operational security reasons we will not provide further details.
We will continue working with our partners and allies to defeat ISIS wherever it operates," White said.
The Pentagon declined to give any comment immediately.
"At this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region," Pentagon spokesman Col Rob Manning said when asked whether the US military is preparing for a full withdrawal of forces in northeast Syria.
The Wall Street Journal described it as an abrupt decision by the Trump administration.
"US officials began informing partners in northeastern Syria of their plans to begin immediately pulling American forces out of the region, where they have been trying to wrap up the campaign against Islamic State," the daily said, quoting unnamed official.
Several US lawmakers warned the Trump administration that this was a grave error.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio said that the full and rapid withdrawal from Syria is a grave error with broader implications beyond just the fight against ISIS.
"The President's tweet is dangerous, premature and wholly inconsistent with the facts on the ground in Syria and our military's advice.
I have travelled to Syria to review our mission, and our military has performed well beyond expectations," said Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
Shaheen said he is very concerned that "an ill-informed and hasty withdrawal of troops will "breathe new life into ISIS" and other terrorist groups and cede America's leadership role to Russia, Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.