US Secretary of Defense James Mattis attends a news conference in Skopje, Macedonia, Sept. 17, 2018.  (photo by REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski)

Intel: Mattis on 'same sheet of music' as Bolton on US troops Syria

Author: Al-Monitor Staff
Posted September 24, 2018

Just hours after national security adviser John Bolton told reporters at the United Nations that 2,200 US troops would stay in Syria “as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis backed him up, signaling that American forces won’t be coming out of the war-torn country anytime soon.

Full quote: “I think we are on the same sheet of music. It is the Geneva process, and the Geneva process has got to come to a conclusion if we’re to see this end. I’ve talked to [Bolton] so far today twice. There is no daylight between his appreciation of the situation and mine.”

Why it matters: Mattis and other high-ranking Defense Department officials have long sought to push President Donald Trump away from his March statement that US troops would leave Syria “very soon.” Today the former Marine general indicated that a US presence could remain after the defeat of the Islamic State to assist in training Syrian forces and stabilizing the country. Previously, the Pentagon has stopped short of outlining a long-term presence in Syria and laid out a “conditions-based” timeline, meaning US troops would leave once they ensured the terror group couldn’t return. Despite saying his approach was similar to Bolton’s, Mattis said US troops remained in Syria to defeat the Islamic State, not to stop Iran’s malign activities, a potential area of friction with Iran hard-liners in the Trump administration.

What now: Geneva, Geneva. The United States is hoping to breathe life into the long-stalled UN political process by beefing up the State Department’s team for the negotiations, led by former Ambassador to Turkey Jim Jeffrey. Mattis indicated that Iran “has a role to play” in the talks by stopping meddling in Syria by its proxies, such as Lebanese Hezbollah, which receives support from Tehran.

President Trump is expected to address the Syria conflict when he chairs a UN Security Council meeting on nonproliferation on Wednesday.

Know more: Al-Monitor Washington Editor Julian Pecquet is in New York this week as US officials meet their counterparts from around the world at the UN General Assembly. Follow his coverage here.

And check out Laura Rozen’s latest dispatch, covering Jeffrey’s effort to stave off a regime-led effort to take the last remaining Syrian rebel stronghold in Idlib.

- Jack Detsch

Al-Monitor Staff

Al-Monitor Staff

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