Analysis

U.S. to leave a residual military force in Syria

Trump administration's special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey claimed at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that the president had never intended a comprehensive troop withdrawal, but instead to leave a residual force in northern Syria.

Why it matters: Jeffrey's statement is another departure from President Trump's order, announced in December, that all 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria would leave, since their mission to destroy the Islamic State caliphate, in his view, had been achieved.

  • Jeffrey claimed since the U.S. could not get other members of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State to agree to replace all of American forces in northeast Syria, the president decided to slow down the withdrawal and leave a residual force.
  • Yet, Jeffrey also said the administration wants other coalition members to bear the cost of stabilizing Syria: "We are shifting the focus from an exclusively American funded largely American boots on the ground to a more balanced one...It is burden sharing."

The big picture: Both the Obama and Trump administrations have sought to prevent its Kurdish partners from establishing an independent state in Syria. They also have had to take into consideration the position of Turkey, another ally in the fight against the Islamic State, for whom Syrian Kurdish forces are one and the same with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a group designated as a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington. Nevertheless, Jeffrey said in the hearing that the United States would stand by its Kurdish allies in northern Syria, as evidenced by the residual U.S. force to remain in Syria.

Go deeper: Interview: Trump left a tripwire military presence in Syria