Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday described President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw all American troops from Syria as “incredibly clear” amid international uncertainty surrounding the administration’s position on U.S. forces in the region.
“The president’s guidance is incredibly clear,” Pompeo told host Margaret Brennan of CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” adding that the drawdown of the roughly 2,000 uniformed soldiers in Syria “is underway.”
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“We’re going to do so in an orderly and deliberate way,” Pompeo said. “A way that protects America’s national security. A way that allows us to continue the important mission that they were on — the counterterrorism mission.”
The president’s top diplomat went on to describe the withdrawal — which in part resulted in the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis — as “a tactical change” in U.S. military strategy, and said the “mission remains the same” with regard to the administration’s efforts to destroy the Islamic State group and terror threats from Iran.
“Those are all real missions,” he said.
Pompeo is currently undertaking an eight-day tour of the Middle East following anxiety over Trump’s Syria policy, visiting countries including Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait.
Pompeo’s trip follows similar stops national security adviser John Bolton made in Israel and Turkey over the past week in an attempt to calm the regional powers. But Bolton appeared to contradict the president in Jerusalem on Sunday when he said the troop pullout from Syria is conditioned on defeating the remnants of the Islamic State and on Turkey assuring the safety of U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters.
Those remarks were met with indignation from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who criticized Bolton in a speech to his parliament and skipped a meeting with the top Trump administration official during his time in Ankara.
In a phone conversation Saturday, Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu “agreed on the importance of continuing U.S.-Turkish consultations,” according to State department spokesman.
Pompeo also “reiterated the United States’ commitment to addressing Turkish security concerns along the Turkey-Syria border, while emphasizing the importance that the United State places on the protection of forces who worked with the United States and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS,” the spokesman said in a statement.