Trump aide: US military withdrawal from Syria 'waiting on conditions'

National Security Advisor John Bolton

Trump had said in his December 19 withdrawal announcement that US forces "have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency", and added in a video posted to Twitter, "Now it's time for our troops to come back home".

Trump himself has more recently spoken of "slowly" sending troops home "over a period of time", and Bolton laid out some of the conditions required before it takes place.

Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian military targets and deliveries of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, a Shiite Lebanese militia backed by Tehran.

The U.S. -backed force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces are believed to be holding hundreds of IS foreign fighters in detention centers in northern Syria, as well as their families in SDF-run camps in the north.

The decision to withdraw, which also led to the resignation of US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior staff, has raised fears it will clear the way for a Turkish assault on the Kurdish fighters.

Bolton is expected to tell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that troops will remain at a base in Syria to counter Iranian activity, according to a senior USA administration official who spoke with NPR's Daniel Estrin. The 35-year-old, who reportedly went by the alias Abu Zaid al-Ameriki, does not appear to have been one of the fighters, mainly USA citizens and legal residents, who had been identified in the Program on Extremism report.

"There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal", Bolton told reporters in Jerusalem, where he was traveling to assuage concerns over the troop pullback.

"We won't be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone", Trump said before departing for Camp David.

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Trump's advisers and GOP allies have warned that pulling out U.S. troops would also leave Kurdish fighters - who had been vital allies - susceptible to attacks by Turkey, where leaders see the group as a threat to their nation's sovereignty.

Speaking to reporters on the trip overseas, Bolton said "there is absolutely no change" in the Trump administration's opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons.

The Kurds have invited Damascus to send troops into some of the territory it controls, to act as a bulwark against pro-Turkish forces.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is following Bolton to the Mideast this coming week for an eight-country tour of Arab allies to shore up support for the administration's partners in the region.

Netanyahu said he was planning to take Bolton on a tour of the Golan Heights, weather permitting. "I've discussed this with the president, and I hope I have a chance to to show it to you directly tomorrow on our visit".

"And why it's important that all countries recognise Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights".

Israel annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, a move not recognized by most of the global community.

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