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Trump seeks Syria pullout with hard work ahead

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WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he wanted to “get out” of Syria but offered no timetable, as his advisers warned of the hard work left to defeat Islamic State and stabilize areas recaptured from the hardline militant group.

Mr. Trump told a news conference the United States would “not rest until ISIS is gone,” using an acronym for the militant group.

But he also suggested that victory was imminent.

The Pentagon and State Department have held that a longer term US effort would be needed to ensure that Islamic State’s defeat is a lasting one.

“It’s time,” Mr. Trump told reporters, when asked if he was inclined to withdraw US forces.

“We were very successful against (Islamic State). We’ll be successful against anybody militarily. But sometimes it’s time to come back home and we’re thinking about that very seriously.”

The United States is waging near-daily air strikes in Syria and has deployed about 2,000 troops on the ground, including US special operations forces whose advising has helped Kurdish militia and other US-backed fighters capture territory from Islamic State.

US Army General Joseph Votel, who oversees US troops in the Middle East as the head of Central Command, estimated on Tuesday that more than 90% of the group’s territory in Syria had been taken back from the militants since 2014.

Mr. Trump estimated the percentage of territory recaptured in Iraq and Syria at “almost 100%,” a figure that US officials say is correct — it is about 98% — but does not highlight the work left in Syria.

The big hurdle, in the US military’s view, is seizing Islamic State-held territory around the Syrian town of Abu Kamal.

That effort that has been slowed as US-backed Kurdish fighters shift their focus away from Islamic State toward a Turkish offensive against Kurdish allies elsewhere in Syria’s complex, multi-pronged civil war, now in its eighth year.

Brett McGurk, the special US envoy for the global coalition against Islamic State, speaking alongside Votel at an event in Washington on Tuesday, said the US fight against Islamic State was not over.

“We are in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our mission and our mission isn’t over and we are going to complete that mission,” Mr. McGurk said. — Reuters