Tillerson Says U.S. Troops to Stay in Syria Beyond Battle With ISIS


Syrians walked through a neighborhood destroyed in the fight against the Islamic State in the northern city of Raqqa this month.

Delil Souleiman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — American troops will remain in Syria long after their fight against the Islamic State to ensure that neither Iran nor President Bashar al-Assad of Syria take over areas that have been newly liberated with help from the United States, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said on Wednesday.

Staying in Syria, Mr. Tillerson said, will help ensure that the Trump administration does not repeat what he described as the mistakes of former President Barack Obama, who withdrew troops from Iraq before the extremist threat was doused and failed to stabilize Libya after NATO airstrikes that led to the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

“We cannot allow history to repeat itself in Syria,” Mr. Tillerson said during a speech at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University near San Francisco. “ISIS has one foot in the grave, and by maintaining an American military presence in Syria until the full and complete defeat of ISIS is achieved, it will soon have two.”

ISIS is another name for the Islamic State, or Daesh, as it is known in Arabic.

Mr. Tillerson’s comments were the first time that a senior Trump administration official pledged to keep American troops in Syria well after the current battle ends. They also marked another step in President Trump’s gradual evolution from a populist firebrand who promised to extricate the United States from foreign military entanglements to one who is grudgingly accepting many of the national security strategies he once derided.

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump said that “at some point, we cannot be the policeman of the world.”

Mr. Obama won the White House in 2008 in part by promising to wind down the war in Iraq, and only agreed to a limited role in the 2011 airstrikes in Libya.

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