Retiring diplomat says defense officials misled Trump on troop count in Syria

WASHINGTON — US defense officials routinely misled President Trump into believing the American troop count in Syria was a lot lower than it actually is, a retiring US diplomat said in a bombshell interview this week.

“We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there,” James Jeffrey, US Special Representative for Syria Engagement, said in an interview with Defense One.

In October 2019, Trump ordered the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria — a controversial decision among lawmakers, defense officials and diplomats.

Pentagon officials convinced the president to leave approximately 200 troops behind to protect oil fields in the country’s east which were at risk of falling into ISIS control, Jeffrey said.

However, the real number of troops in northeast Syria is “a lot more than” the two hundred troops Trump agreed to leave behind, Jeffrey said, with some officials putting that number as high as 900.

“What Syria withdrawal? There was never a Syria withdrawal,” Jeffrey told the publication.

“When the situation in northeast Syria had been fairly stable after we defeated ISIS, [Trump] was inclined to pull out,” he went on.

“In each case, we then decided to come up with five better arguments for why we needed to stay. And we succeeded both times. That’s the story,” he said.

According to a Washington Post report published last October, Pentagon officials unhappy with the withdrawal appealed to Trump’s interest in oil to convince him not to withdraw troops.

“This is like feeding a baby its medicine in yogurt or applesauce,” one US official familiar with the deliberations said.

Jeffrey, who was the US Ambassador to Iraq and Turkey under Barack Obama and a deputy national security adviser to George Bush, was a signee of the infamous “Never Trump” letter from GOP security officials opposing the new president.

But the diplomat said he was actually impressed by Trump’s Middle East record and is now pushing the incoming Biden administration to adopt it.

“Nobody really wants to see President Trump go, among all our allies [in the Middle East],” he said.

“The truth is President Trump and his policies are quite popular among all of our popular states in the region. Name me one that’s not happy.”

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