Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The United States will leave about 200 peacekeeping troops in Syria after its full military withdrawal from the battle-scarred nation, the White House said.
The announcement came about two months after President Donald Trump said the Pentagon would withdraw all forces from Syria -- about 2,000 troops -- because the U.S. mission to defeat the Islamic State terror group there had been accomplished. The move drew some criticism and led to the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Trump first said he wanted troops to leave within 30 days, but that timetable was altered after Erdogan said he still planned to attack U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria after American soldiers left. The Turkish government considers the Kurdish fighting forces "terrorist."
National security adviser John Bolton said last month the speed of the U.S. withdrawal will depend on Turkey's cooperation in leaving the Kurdish forces alone.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the most vocal critics of the plan, praised Trump's decision on maintaining a peacekeeping force there.
"This will ensure [the Islamic State] does not return and Iran does not fill the vacuum that would have been left if we completely withdrew," Graham said. "This also ensures Turkey and [Syrian Democratic Forces] elements that helped us defeat [IS] will not go into conflict."
Senior officials said leaving peacekeepers in Syria could encourage France and Britain to do the same.