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John Bolton: No troop withdrawal from Syria until Kurds protected, ISIS contained


National security adviser John Bolton said Sunday that U.S. forces would not leave Syria until the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is fully defeated and the Trump administration receives assurances that U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters will be protected.

The Associated Press reported that Bolton laid out the conditions during a trip to Israel for a full U.S. withdrawal.

"There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” Bolton said. “The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”

The comments provide the clearest indication yet that U.S. forces will not imminently withdraw from Syria, despite President Trump previously stating troops were "coming back now."

Bolton said Sunday there is no concrete timetable, explaining that U.S. forces "won't be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone." He added that he intends to meet with Turkish officials to discuss their objectives in the region and to warn against any attacks on the Kurds, the AP reported.

U.S. support for the Kurds in Syria has been a point of tension in U.S.-Turkey relations, as the NATO ally views the Kurdish forces in Syria as a terrorist group.

Bolton's comments break with Trump's original plan for the withdrawal. The president tweeted on Dec. 19 that the U.S. had "defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there." He posted a video the same day in which he said troops in the war-torn country are "all coming back and they're coming back now."

"We won, and that's the way we want it and that's the way they want it,” Trump said in the video, gesturing to the sky.

Lawmakers in both major parties criticized the announcement, arguing that an abrupt withdrawal could destabilize the region and strengthen ISIS. The decision precipitated James Mattis's resignation as Defense secretary.

Trump has in recent weeks tempered his language on the withdrawal, tweeting that ISIS is "mostly gone," and indicated American forces would "slowly" return home from the country.

As he departed the White House on Sunday morning for Camp David, Trump told reporters that "we are pulling back in Syria," but claimed he "never said we're doing it that quickly."

Roughly 2,000 U.S. troops are in northern Syria. The country has been ravaged by civil war, and hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed.

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