On Wednesday morning, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. military was planning to withdraw its troops from Syria, where around 2,000 troops and special forces units have been stationed.
Shortly after, as the news was confirmed by multiple other news outlets, Trump tossed out a “Mission Accomplished” tweet, claiming that the fight against ISIS—which he said was “my only reason for being there”—was over.
The news took pretty much everyone by surprise and left reporters and government officials alike scrambling to figure out exactly what American plans were for a region already plagued by chaotic fighting between half a dozen armed groups and governments.
The White House put out a press statement after Trump’s tweet that clarified exactly nothing:
“Next phase of this campaign” could mean... anything, really, but it does appear that at least some troops will be coming home.
As many people—Republican ghouls like Lindsay Graham included—pointed out, the only person saying the fight against ISIS in Syria is over is Trump.
The State Department, again at odds with the president, quickly canceled its regular press briefing. Secretary of Defense James Mattis hit reporters with a “no comment” as soon as he was asked what was going on.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White gave some context to the confusion around noon, basically reiterating the White House’s statement and saying that the process of bringing troops home had “started,” whatever that means.
Reuters then reported that the State Department is pulling out all of its personnel from Syria.
Officials on the ground, for their part, say nothing’s going on just yet.
Whether or not you agree with the U.S. involvement in Syria, whatever decision the Trump administration (appears?) to be making is going to have significant effects on the balance of power in a country broken apart by a brutal civil war and repeatedly besieged by outside forces. (Just this past week, the U.S. was begging Turkey, which has been threatening to assault areas of the country controlled by a militia it doesn’t like, to stay out of things.)
Essentially, we have no idea what’s going to happen next, but it’s a good thing our current system of using military force lets one dude with an affinity for buddying up to dictators roll the dice with thousands of lives every day.