- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2019

The Pentagon on Sunday night denied reports the U.S. will keep about 1,000 troops in Syria and said President Trump’s plan to withdraw forces will proceed.

In an unusually pointed statement, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford slammed a story in the Wall Street Journal that claimed the U.S. would maintain the troop presence in order to protect Kurdish fighters inside Syria.

Gen. Dunford said the U.S. continues to work with Turkey — which is widely expected to launch an offensive against Kurdish fighters once American forces leave — but there have been no major changes to the withdrawal plan.

“A claim reported this evening by a major U.S. newspaper that the U.S. military is developing plans to keep nearly 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria is factually incorrect,” he said in a statement. “There has been no change to the plan announced in February and we continue to implement the president’s direction to draw down U.S. forces to a residual presence.”

“Further, we continue to conduct detailed military planning with the Turkish General Staff to address Turkish security concerns along the Turkey-Syria border,” he continued. “Planning to date has been productive and we have an initial concept that will be refined in the coming days. We are also conducting planning with other members of the Coalition who have indicated an intent to support the transition phase of operations into Syria.”

Mr. Trump last December announced that the U.S. would withdraw the 2,000 troops currently stationed in Syria, claiming they’d accomplished their mission and had defeated the Islamic State. That highly controversial decision sparked the resignation of then-Defense Secretary James Mattis and ignited a bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill.

While Pentagon officials vehemently denied the Wall Street Journal report, it remains unclear exactly what the “residual presence” expected to remain in Syria will look like.

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