Trump Orders Big Troop Reduction in Afghanistan

A day after a contested decision to pull American military forces from Syria, officials said Thursday that President Trump has ordered the start of a reduction of American forces in Afghanistan.

More than 7,000 American troops will begin to return home from Afghanistan in the coming weeks, a U.S. official said. The move will come as the first stage of a phased drawdown and the start of a conclusion to the 17-year war that officials say could take at least many months. There now are more than 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Mr. Trump announced Wednesday that he would pull all of the more than 2,000 American troops from Syria.

Taken together, the Syria withdrawal and the likely Afghan drawdown represent a dramatic shift in the U.S. approach to military engagement in hot spots around the world, reflecting Mr. Trump’s aversion to long-running military entanglements with their high costs and American casualties.

“I think it shows how serious the president is about wanting to come out of conflicts,” a senior U.S. official said of how the Syria decision affects his thinking on Afghanistan. “I think he wants to see viable options about how to bring conflicts to a close.”

The shifts may have proven too drastic for some in the administration. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis submitted a letter expressing his intent to leave, saying, “you have the right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours.”

Mr. Mattis’s unexpected departure raises questions about whether Mr. Trump’s plans will proceed as he directed.

The plans for troop withdrawals also reflect Mr. Trump’s campaign promises and his “America First” approach to overseas involvements. In a Twitter message on Thursday, he wrote, “Time to come home & rebuild.”

In both the Afghan and Syrian conflicts, Mr. Trump earlier this year voiced an interest in bringing troops home within the year or less, moves that were widely opposed within the U.S. national security establishment.

But Mr. Trump’s impatience has deepened, and in recent days, the debate has grown more pointed, according to those familiar with the discussions. The Pentagon over the last weekend fended off a push by Mr. Trump to start bringing troops home from Afghanistan starting in January, officials said.

Mr. Trump’s decision on Syria, like earlier foreign-policy decisions including his decision to leave the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, was made without a formal consultative process within his cabinet, officials and lawmakers said, cementing his inclination to make key national security decisions on his own or in small groups that include national security adviser John Bolton and a few others. He also apprised few international leaders of his intentions.

The Pentagon and U.S. Central Command declined to comment on the Afghanistan plans. The move to reduce U.S. military involvement in the Middle East and Africa comes alongside a new national security strategy that designates geopolitical competitors such as Russia and China greater threats than terrorists or failed states.

Mr. Trump’s decision on Syria was widely criticized by Democrats and Republican alike in Congress and national security experts across the government, an outcome that also is likely to greet his decision on Afghanistan.

[Wall Stree Journal]

A Trump Call That Went Rogue Hands Erdogan a Surprise Win on Syria

Donald Trump was supposed to tell his Turkish counterpart to stop testing his patience with military threats in Syria. That is, if the American president stuck to the script.

Instead, during a lengthy phone call earlier this month, Trump shocked even those in his inner circle by yielding to a suggestion from Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reverse the Pentagon’s Syrian strategy, handing the Turkish president his biggest diplomatic victory ever.

Erdogan pressed Trump on the Dec. 14 call to explain why American forces were still in Syria even after they met their objective of defeating Islamic State, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.

Erdogan had a point about the defeat of ISIS, Trump said, repeating his long-held conviction that American troops should be out of Syria anyway, according to the people, including an American official who spoke on condition of anonymity while discussing the call.

Then the American president dropped a bombshell, asking National Security Adviser John Bolton — whom he addressed as “Johnny” — about the feasibility of an immediate pullout, according to two of the people. He got a reassuring “yes” in response and the ball started rolling, the people said.

Days later, Trump announced the pullout of all 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, facing withering criticism from both sides of the political spectrum for leaving a key part of the Middle East exposed to Russian and Iranian influence. Then on Thursday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned.

While Trump faced political heat, Erdogan became a hero at home, seen as a leader who got his way with the world’s biggest superpower by convincing Washington to end its support for Turkey’s nemesis in Syria, a Kurdish militant group called the YPG. Erdogan says the group — which has allied with America for some of the toughest fighting in northern Syria — is linked to domestic terrorists he has long sought to wipe out.

The developments illustrate how Erdogan has managed to become a more central player in both Mideast politics and U.S. foreign policy, capitalizing on an American president eager to fulfill promises to extricate American troops from Middle East quagmires. They come just months after Trump and Erdogan were facing off over new American tariffs, Turkey’s refusal to release an American pastor and Erdogan’s demands that the U.S. extradite a cleric it views as behind a failed 2016 coup.

[Bloomberg]

President Trump orders all US troops out of Syria, declares victory over ISIS

President Donald Trump called Wednesday for a U.S. withdrawal from Syria over the apparent objections of military advisers and a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

The withdrawal of the more than 2,000 troops is based on Trump’s decision that the mission against ISIS is complete, a U.S. official told USA TODAY.

Trump tweeted out a video statement in which he said U.S. “heroes” should be brought home because they have accomplished the mission of defeating ISIS. “Now we’ve won,” Trump said. “It’s time to come back … they’re getting ready; you’re going to see them soon.”

Military leaders, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in recent weeks and months have spoken of the need for U.S. troops to remain in the eastern part of the country to help stabilize it and allow for peace negotiations to proceed.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., derided Trump’s decision to withdraw, likening it to those made by former President Barack Obama to announce ahead of time plans to reduce forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake,” Graham tweeted.

In a statement, Graham added that Trump’s action would represent a “big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia.”

“I fear it will lead to devastating consequences for our nation, the region, and throughout the world,” Graham said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted that the move was a “major blunder” and against the Pentagon’s advice.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, called it a “dangerous decision” that would destabilize the region, endanger Kurdish allies and embolden America’s enemies.

“We’re leaving the Kurds at risk, we’re creating a vacuum, and we’re doing it in a way that puts Israel at risk” because of Iran’s presence in Syria, Menendez said.

In Russia, a foreign ministry spokesperson applauded Trump’s decision, saying it could help create “a real prospect for a political solution” in Syria, according to TASS, the Russian state-owned news agency.

Trump’s announcement should not surprise anybody because he has promised it, according to a senior administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly. The official would not say why Trump apparently didn’t inform high-ranking officials of his decision. The Pentagon is developing the timeline for the removal of troops.

The U.S. will continue to apply pressure on  Assad and his Iranian allies, the official said, but referred questions to the Pentagon about whether U.S. warplanes would continue to strike ISIS targets.

In statements later Wednesday, White House and Pentagon spokeswomen equivocated on the “defeat” of ISIS that Trump referred to.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that the U.S. has “defeated the territorial caliphate.”

“These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign,” Sanders said in a statement. “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.” She did not offer details on what the next phase was.

Dana White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, went even further, saying the fight against ISIS continues.

“The Coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over,” White said in a statement. “We have started the process of returning U.S. troops home from Syria as we transition to the next phase of the campaign.”

Yet in  his tweet earlier Wednesday, Trump declared victory.

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” he wrote.

Despite Trump’s assertion, fighting by U.S.-led forces continues in Syria.

On Saturday, warplanes  struck ISIS targets 47 times, U.S. Central Command announced early Wednesday. The bombs struck 20 fighting units and destroyed petroleum tanks, a tunnel, a vehicle and a mortar-firing position, the military said.

According to a recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, ISIS is far from obliterated. The Washington-based think tank estimates 20,000 to 30,000 Islamic State militants may still be in Iraq and Syria.

As recently as last week, officials said U.S. troops may need a longer stay to ensure that the military’s accomplishments are “enduring.”

“I think it’s fair to say Americans will remain on the ground after the physical defeat of the caliphate, until we have the pieces in place to ensure that that defeat is enduring,” said Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined earlier in December to put a timeline on withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, suggesting they would be needed for some time to establish conditions for a long-term peace agreement.

“We still have a long way to go, and so I’d be reluctant to give a fixed time,” Dunford said in a forum held by the Washington Post.

The U.S.-led coalition has been fighting ISIS in the countries since 2014.

U.S. troops, most of them special-operations units, have been training local security forces in eastern Syria.

In September, Mattis told reporters that declaring victory and leaving Syria would be a mistake.

“I think that getting rid of the caliphate doesn’t mean you then blindly say OK, we got rid of it, march out, and then wonder why the caliphate comes back and how many times have we seen – look at even Iraq where they’re still on the hunt for them.  And they’re still trying to come back.”

[USA Today]

Pentagon to deploy 5,200 active duty troops to Mexico border as Trump escalates threats against migrant caravan

A week out from the midterm elections, the Pentagon said Monday it is sending 5,200 troops, some armed, to the Southwest border this week in an extraordinary military operation to stop Central American migrants traveling north in two caravans that were still hundreds of miles from the U.S. The number of troops is more than double the 2,000 who are in Syria fighting the Islamic State group.

President Donald Trump, eager to focus voters on immigration in the lead-up to the elections, stepped up his warnings about the caravans, tweeting: “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”

His warning came as the Pentagon began executing “Operation Faithful Patriot,” described by the commander of U.S. Northern Command as an effort to help Customs and Border Protection stiffen defenses at and near legal entry points. Advanced helicopters will allow border protection agents to swoop down on migrants trying to cross illegally, he said.

“We’re going to secure the border,” Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the Northern Command leader, said at a news conference. He spoke alongside Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

Eight hundred troops already are on their way to southern Texas, O’Shaughnessy said, and their numbers will top 5,200 by week’s end. He said troops would focus first on Texas, followed by Arizona and then California.

The number of people in the first caravan has dwindled to 3,500 from about 7,000, though a second one was gaining steam and marred by violence. About 600 migrants in the second group tried to cross a bridge from Guatemala to Mexico en masse on Monday but were met by ranks of Mexican federal police who blocked them from entering. The riverbank standoff followed a more violent confrontation Sunday when the migrants used sticks and rocks against Mexico police. One migrant was killed Sunday night by a head wound, but the cause was unclear.

The first group passed through the spot via the river — wading or on rafts — and was advancing through southern Mexico. That group appeared to begin as a collection of about 160 who decided to band together in Honduras for protection against the gangs who prey on migrants traveling alone and snowballed as the group moved north. They are mostly from Honduras, where it started, as well as El Salvador and Guatemala.

Overall, they are poor, carrying the belongings that fit into a knapsack and fleeing gang violence or poverty. It’s possible there are criminals mixed in, but Trump has not substantiated his claim that members of the MS-13 gang, in particular, are among them.

The president’s dark description of the caravan belied the fact that any migrants who complete the long trek to the southern U.S. border already face major hurdles, both physical and bureaucratic, to being allowed into the United States. Migrants are entitled under both U.S. and international law to apply for asylum, but it may take a while to make a claim. There is already a bottleneck of asylum seekers at some U.S. border crossings, in some cases as long as five weeks.

McAleenan said the aim was to deter migrants from crossing illegally between ports, but he conceded his officers were overwhelmed by a surge of asylum seekers. He also said Mexico was prepared to offer asylum to the caravan.

“If you’re already seeking asylum, you’ve been given a generous offer,” he said of Mexico. “We want to work with Mexico to manage that flow.”

The White House is also weighing additional border security measures, including blocking those traveling in the caravan from seeking legal asylum and preventing them from entering the U.S.

The military operation drew quick criticism.

“Sending active military forces to our southern border is not only a huge waste of taxpayer money, but an unnecessary course of action that will further terrorize and militarize our border communities,” said Shaw Drake of the American Civil Liberties Union’s border rights center at El Paso, Texas.

Military personnel are legally prohibited from engaging in immigration enforcement. The troops will include military police, combat engineers and others helping on the southern border.

The escalating rhetoric and expected deployments come as the president has been trying to turn the caravans into a key election issue just days before the midterm elections that will determine whether Republicans maintain control of Congress.

“This will be the election of the caravans, the Kavanaughs, law and order, tax cuts, and you know what else? It’s going to be the election of common sense,” Trump said at a rally in Illinois on Saturday night.

On Monday, he tweeted without providing evidence: “Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border.”

“Please go back,” he urged them. “you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”

The troops are expected to perform a wide variety of functions such as transporting supplies for the Border Patrol, but not engage directly with migrants seeking to cross the border, officials said. One U.S. official said the troops will be sent initially to staging bases in California, Texas and Arizona while the CBP works out precisely where it wants the troops positioned. U.S. Transportation Command posted a video on its Facebook page Monday of a C-17 transport plane that it said was delivering Army equipment to the Southwest border in support of Operation Faithful Patriot.

The U.S. military has already begun delivering jersey barriers to the southern border in conjunction with the deployment plans.

[CNBC]

Trump: ‘I am bringing out the military’ to stop border crossings

President Trump said in an early morning tweet on Thursday that he is “bringing out the military” to secure the border with Mexico, calling it a “National Emergency.”

“Brandon Judd of the National Border Patrol Council is right when he says on @foxandfriends that the Democrat inspired laws make it tough for us to stop people at the Border,” Trump tweeted. “MUST BE CHANDED [sic], but I am bringing out the military for this National Emergency. They will be stopped!”

Trump tweeted last week that he would use the military to stop a caravan of migrants from Central America, which has reportedly swelled beyond 7,500, if Mexico did not stop it.

“I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught — and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!” Trump tweeted.

He said Wednesday night at a rally in Wisconsin that the “military are ready” to help secure the border against the caravan, according to NBC News.

The Mexican ambassador to the U.S., Gerónimo Gutiérrez, said Monday that Mexico will continue to work to halt illegal immigration into its country and work with the Trump administration to block the caravan from passing into the U.S.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Bill Speaks told The Hill that the military is working through the logistics and is monitoring the situation at the border closely.

“At this time, I can only confirm that the Department of Defense continues to monitor events along the Southwest U.S. border, including the status of the migrant caravan heading north through Mexico,” Speaks wrote in an email.

“We anticipate receiving a request for assistance (RFA) from the Department of Homeland Security and are currently working with DHS to determine the specifics of our support to Customs and Border Protection (CBP).”

[The Hill]

Officials Confirm That Trump Bombed Syria to Validate His Tweets

Last week, the United States launched an act of war against a sovereign government because failing to do so would have cast doubt on the credibility of the statements that Donald Trump makes while livetweeting Fox & Friends.

That may sound like hyperbolic snark, or the premise of an Andy Borowitz column, but it is a plain description of the rationale behind last Friday’s missile strikes in Syria, according to multiple military and administration officials.

Last Tuesday — amid reports that the U.S. was considering a strike against the Assad regime, in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack against civilians in Douma — Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin warned that “if there is a US missile attack, we … will shoot down U.S. rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles.”

The Fox & Friends morning crew took exception to this bluster, with one host arguing, “What we should be doing is telling the Russians, ‘Every Syrian military base is a target and if you’re there, it is your problem.’”

Minutes later, one of the program’s most dedicated viewers echoed that belligerent note.

The White House had reached no final decision about whether to strike Syria — let alone, whether to target Russian assets within it — when the president tweeted this pledge. Over the ensuing days, Defense Secretary James Mattis implored Trump to hold off on bombing the Assad regime until its responsibility for the Douma attack could be fully verified, and Congress could be given a chance to authorize the act of war.

But the president couldn’t abide a delay. In his view, it was better to bomb Syria without a strategy or legal authorization than to invite doubts about the credibility of the threats he makes on social media. As the New York Times reports:

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged President Trump to get congressional approval before the United States launched airstrikes against Syria last week, but was overruled by Mr. Trump, who wanted a rapid and dramatic response, military and administration officials said.

Mr. Trump, the officials said, wanted to be seen as backing up a series of bellicose tweets with action, but was warned that an overly aggressive response risked igniting a wider war with Russia.

… Mr. Trump’s drumbeat of threats last week of a sharp response to the suspected gas attacks all but guaranteed that the United States military would strike Syria, according to two Defense Department officials who spoke on condition of anonymity … Mr. Trump did not necessarily want to hit Syria hard enough to bring Russia into the war, administration officials said. But he did want to appear aggressive in his response.

Just days before the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Trump had called for an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Syria. At that point, Assad was already (allegedly) using chemical weapons on a routine basis. No significant facts on the ground changed between when the president wanted to remove every last American soldier from Syria, and when he wanted to escalate U.S. intervention against Assad. What did change were Fox News’ programming decisions.

Unlike Assad’s typical war crimes, the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma produced dead bodies that weren’t too mutilated to be aired extensively on American cable news channels. Trump reportedly saw those images and felt moved to assert American power. He then, ostensibly, saw a Fox & Friends segment in which Russia was portrayed as challenging his authority to assert that power. He tweeted a rebuke. And thus, America went to war.

Thanks to James Mattis, the bombings proved to be quite limited — mere “show strikes” designed to “send a message” without sparking a wider war. Had Trump picked a slightly less risk-averse hawk as his Defense secretary, however, it’s quite possible that his tweet would have been the trigger for a direct confrontation with Russia and Iran: As the Times reports, “neoconservative members of the Republican foreign policy establishment have started to air concerns that Mr. Mattis is ceding strategic territory to Iran and Russia in Syria.”

As it happened, Trump’s strikes proved sufficiently innocuous for “liberal” foreign policy wonks to feel comfortable endorsing them — even as they acknowledged the campaign’s illegality and strategic incoherence.

And yet, the fact that such Establishment figures blessed Trump’s decision to wage an illegal war in defense of his tweets only makes the development more unnerving.

Trump’s conduct as president is often terrifying for the ways in which it breaks radically with precedent. But a nearly-as-unsettling aspect of his presidency is the way it rubs one’s face in the insanity of American “politics-as-usual.” Which is to say: Like a caricature, Trump makes the more unsightly features of the American presidency more visible, by blowing them up to garish extremes.

It was, of course, absurd for the man who had campaigned in support of torture, banning Syrian refugees — and deliberately targeting the families of enemy combatants for execution — to justify air strikes in Syria on humanitarian grounds. But it was also (less gratuitously) absurd for Barack Obama to issue similarly moralistic condemnations of chemical warfare as such, while his administration allowed U.S. troops to deploy white phosphorus in Afghanistan — and helped its Saudi allies to commit war crimes in Yemen. It is insane that Trump launched a strategically incoherent military intervention for the sole purpose of projecting an image of strength to a domestic audience — but it was also insane for Lyndon Johnson to escalate American involvement in Vietnam for much the same reason.

None of this is to deny that our current president is more comprehensively detached from reality than his predecessors were. When other presidents made plainly hypocritical foreign policy statements — or took strategically dubious foreign policy actions — they generally did so in service of some sincere policy goal. By most accounts, George W. Bush genuinely believed in the power of the United States to spread democracy through mass murder. Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam policy was conceived, at least in part, as a means of preserving political capital for advancing liberal domestic goals.

By contrast, projecting a desirable image is Trump’s highest ambition. He does not use propaganda as means for advancing his preferred policies; he uses policy as a tool for advancing his preferred propaganda. The mogul did not run for president because he had deeply held convictions about how he wanted to change the world, but because he had a deeply felt desire to change how the world saw him. This is why he prefers to get his information about foreign affairs from a morning talk show, instead of from the most powerful intelligence apparatus ever assembled by humankind: Trump cares more about how geopolitical realities look to Fox News viewers, than about what those realities actually are.

From this perspective, the president’s missile strikes in Syria were strategically sound. If the goal was not to enforce the laws of war, but merely to replace one set of cable news images (the bodies of poisoned children in Syria, talking heads debating whether the president would follow through on his tweets) with another more triumphant one (the president sternly asserting America’s moral responsibilities, missiles streaking across a night sky), then it isn’t hard to see why Trump declared “Mission Accomplished.”

But it is difficult to understand how so many members of our nation’s foreign policy Establishment could see this solipsistic performance as a justifiable exercise of American power. And that difficulty leaves one to wonder whether the distinction between waging a war because Fox & Friends told you to and doing so because prestigious Beltway think tanks did is as significant as we might hope.

[New York Magazine]

Trump tweets “Mission Accomplished!” after Syria bombing

Less than 24 hours after ordering missile strikes in Syria, President Donald Trump declared, “Mission Accomplished!” in a tweet on Saturday.

The reaction was swift: Twitter users and political pundits immediately drew parallels with President George W. Bush’s now-infamous 2003 speech just over a month into the Iraq War, in which he announced an end to “major combat operations” in Iraq under a “Mission Accomplished” banner. In actuality, the war was far from over and would stretch on for years.

Trump on Sunday defended his use of the phrase on Twitter and said he’s trying to bring it back in vogue. He said he knew the “Fake News Media” would “seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term.” He said he wants to bring it back and “use often!”

The missile strike that Trump was referring to occurred on Friday night. In an announcement, Trump said the attack was underway in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on rebel-held areas of the country. The attacks left at least 42 adults and children dead. The United States, Britain, and France hit three targets in the country, including the capital of Damascus, in what Defense Secretary Jim Mattiscalled a “one-time shot.”

Trump, who has publicly telegraphed his thinking on Syria on Twitter in recent days, took to the platform to take a victory lap after the bombing.

“A perfectly executed strike last night,” he wrote. “Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”

The Pentagon backed Trump’s assertion. “We met our objectives. We hit the sites, the heart of the chemical weapons program. So it was mission accomplished,” spokesperson Dana White said in a statement to ABC News.

[Vox]

Reality

US military officials have already acknowledged that the strikes did little to blunt Syria’s capacity to manufacture and deliver chemical weapons. The mission was a compromise from the start, targeting facilities that would result in the lowest possible probability of loss of civilian life. And the US warned Russia in advance using the deconfliction line between the US and Russian militaries that there would be an operation over Syria, tipping off Russia and Syria of the strike Trump had already promised was coming.

The strike did accomplish a few things besides blowing up (apparently empty) buildings. It demonstrated how the US, French, and British militaries are capable of orchestrating a joint strike operation on (relatively) short notice, as well as the effectiveness of two relatively new weapons systems. It also demonstrated how some of the oldest weapons systems in the US military’s inventory can still serve a role in these sorts of operations. And the strike gave nearly everyone but the US Army and US Coast Guard an opportunity to take part.

There is also the possibility that these strikes were illegal and unconstitutional.

Trump: US, France and UK launch strikes on Syria

President Donald Trump announced on Friday he ordered strikes on the Syrian regime in response to a chemical weapons attack last weekend.

“I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of Syrian dictator of Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said from the White House Diplomatic Reception Room.

US aircraft and ships were used in the attack, according to multiple US defense officials.

Trump said the strikes were in coordination with France and the United Kingdom, adding that the purpose of the campaign is to “establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.”

“The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power: military, economic and diplomatic,” Trump said.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that she “authorized British armed forces to conduct co-ordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use.”

Trump indicated the strikes would continue until the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons ends.

“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Trump said.

The President also insisted that the US would not remain engaged in Syria forever under any circumstances. He has previously told his national security team he wants US troops to exit Syria within six months.

“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria,” Trump said from the White House.

“As other nations step up their contributions we look forward to the day we can bring our warriors home.”

Trump told the nation in his address the US “cannot purge the world of evil or act everywhere there is tyranny.”

And he described the Middle East as a “troubled place.”

“We will try to make it better but it is a troubled place,” Trump said. “The US will be a partner and a friend. But the fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people.”
He criticized Russia’s support of the Syrian regime saying “Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path.”

Trump also called out Russia’s promise in 2013 that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons.

[CNN]

Trump softens rhetoric on potential Syria strike

President Donald Trump on Thursday softened his rhetoric about potential airstrikes on Syria, a day after warning Russia that missiles “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart.'”
In an early morning tweet and later in comments at the White House, Trump attempted to cloud the timing of military action — a day after indicating it was imminent — and said a final decision had not yet been made.

“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!,” the President tweeted. Trump notably did not rule out plans to attack Syria in retaliation for the weekend’s suspected chemical attack on civilians at the hands of the Assad regime.

The President, however, did not specifically refer to the attack’s timing in his Wednesday tweet, though he warned Russia to “get ready.” In Thursday’s tweet, Trump also suggested he did not get enough credit for US gains against ISIS in the region, asking, “Where is our ‘Thank you America?'”

Speaking to reporters at the White House later in the day, Trump said a decision had not yet been made on a course of action.

“We’re looking very, very seriously, very closely, at that whole situation,” the President said during a meeting with farm state lawmakers. “We have to make some further decisions. So they’ll be made fairly soon.”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis echoed the President when he told lawmakers Thursday, “We have not yet made any decision to launch military attacks into Syria.”
The President will meet with his national security team at the White House on Thursday for further discussions on the US response.

Trump on Wednesday vowed to thwart Russia’s missile defense system in Syria, warning that rockets “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart.'” In tweeting about a potential attack, Trump appeared to publicly telegraph military plans — something for which he heavily criticized former President Barack Obama back in 2013.

Mattis said Wednesday that the US is “still assessing the intelligence” on whether the Assad regime is to blame for the recent suspected chemical attack. Russia has blamed Syrian opposition forces for the attack.

Trump has consulted with US allies, particularly France and the United Kingdom, about a coordinated response to the suspected chemical attack, but officials say they have not reached a firm agreement on scale or timing. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, was convening a meeting of her Cabinet on Thursday afternoon, at which she is expected to make the case for supporting the US in any military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned against a missile strike, writing on Facebook Wednesday that it could destroy evidence on the ground and interrupt the work of international investigators.

“Smart missiles should fly toward terrorists, not the legal government that has been fighting international terrorism for several years on its territory,” Zakharova wrote in response to Trump’s Wednesday tweet.

Should the President follow through on his warnings of an attack, two US Navy destroyers armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles are in position and ready to be called into action, among other assets including jets and submarines.

[CNN]

Trump says missiles ‘will be coming’

US President Donald Trump has tweeted that Russia should “get ready” for missiles to be fired at its ally Syria, in response to an alleged chemical attack near Damascus on Saturday.

“Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!'” Mr Trump said in his tweet.

Senior Russian figures have threatened to meet any US strikes with a response.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government denies mounting a chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma.

In one of his tweets on Wednesday, Mr Trump called the Syrian leader a “gas killing animal”.

In another, he painted a dark picture of US-Russia relations but said it did not have to be that way.

The US, UK and France have agreed to work together and are believed to be preparing for a military strike in response to the alleged chemical attack at the weekend.

[BBC]

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