President Trump will soon have to withdraw U.S. special forces operators from Syria, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The top diplomat argued that the U.S. should leave after the impending defeat of the Islamic State in Syria. That would leave Syrian President Bashar Assad, backed by Russian and Iranian forces, in military control of the country. The warning is part of jockeying for long-term control of the strategically significant Syria.
“There is legitimate presence based on an invitation from official authorities, but there is illegitimate one, namely presence of the U.S.-led coalition and special forces’ troops from a wide range of foreign countries who nobody has invited,” Lavrov told reporters Friday. “After terrorism is defeated, the first step should be the pullout of those who stay illegitimately in Syria.”
That statement rests on the assumption that Assad is the “legitimate” leader of Syria, after six years of civil war that saw the Islamic State emerge as a land-holding terrorist group and an international threat. Trump’s administration has backed away from former President Barack Obama’s declaration that Assad “must go,” but the U.S. side still predicts that he would have to leave to bring peace to Syria.
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