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No plans to leave: Moscow says US has settled in Syria, contrary to ‘terrorist defeat’ promise
Contrary to Donald Trump’s promise to withdraw, the Americans “are actively settling down” on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River in Syria and have no plans to leave, the Russian Foreign Minister has said.
Speaking in Beijing on Tuesday, Sergey Lavrov said “a number of countries have explicitly chosen to disintegrate Syria.” According to Russia’s top diplomat, the US, in particular, pledged that their only aim was to “drive terrorists out of Syria and defeat the so-called Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).”
Despite this promise and contrary to President Donald Trump’s statements, “the US are actively settling down on the eastern bank of Euphrates River and have no plans to leave,” said Lavrov. The Americans are setting up local authorities in the areas they control, he added.
“By the way, it is the French president [Emmanuel Macron] who encourages them [to stay],” the Foreign Minister said. “He recently said the US should not withdraw from Afghanistan [and added that] the American coalition has to remain in Syria until they create the order there that favors the Western countries,” he stated.
On March 29, Trump vowed to pull troops out from Syria, proclaiming that the United States would leave the country “very soon” and will let “the other people take care of it now.” A week after, on April 5, he reiterated the promise: “I want to get out, I want to bring the troops back home, I want to start rebuilding our nation.” At the time, Trump claimed the ultimate goal of defeating Islamic State is "almost completed.”
Earlier this month, shortly after France joined the US and UK missile strikes against Syria, Macron claimed that he had convinced Trump that it was "necessary" to extend American troop deployment in Syria. Moscow lambasted the news, saying Macron’s willingness to have the Americans stay in Syria was “some kind of colonial position.”
A continued US presence in Syria was also reportedly discussed between Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The Gulf kingdom sees the US presence in Syria as the main deterrent against Iranian influence in the region.
In December, the Pentagon acknowledged the presence of almost 1,800 US troops on the ground in Syria, and said they will remain there for “as long as we need to.” American soldiers aside, there are also Turkish troops deployed as part of Operation ‘Olive Branch’ – a massive ground offensive that Ankara launched in northwestern Syria three months ago.
Damascus has consistently opposed both US and Turkish military presence, saying it was a breach of Syria's sovereignty. Syrian President Bashar Assad has referred to the foreign troops as “invaders.”
Foreign Minister Lavrov accused the US last month of planning to “disintegrate the Syrian state” under the guise of fighting terrorism. The US strategy, Lavrov noted at the time, aims “to cut a huge chunk of Syrian territory from the rest of the country while setting up puppet local authorities in that area and trying in every way to establish an autonomous entity under Kurdish authority.”