US will 'take as long as we need' to leave Syria, says army chief

Major General David Hill downplayed fears that withdrawal could lead to an ISIS resurgence

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., February 17, 2019. INTERNATIONAL DEFENCE EXHIBITION AND CONFERENCE  2019 (IDEX) Day 1--  
 Major General David Hill, US Army.
Victor Besa/The National
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Reporter:  Dan Sanderson
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The United States will not risk allowing a resurgence of ISIS by withdrawing prematurely from Syria, an army deputy commander for the region has said.

Major General David Hill, who is deputy commanding general at US Army Central, which covers the Middle East, moved to downplay fears that a rapid departure from the country would lead to an extremist comeback.

Donald Trump, the US President, shocked many observers by announcing in December that US troops would be leaving the country as ISIS had been defeated.

However, speaking on Sunday, Maj Gen Hill said that any withdrawal would be "very deliberate" and that the military would "take as long as we need to" to make sure its partners in the region were left on a sure footing.

ISIS, which once controlled large swathes of Iraq and Syria, has lost much of its territory in recent months and there are hopes that its final stronghold could be defeated in coming days.

“What our national leadership has made clear is that this isn’t a change in mission, it’s just a change of our posture here as we continue to pursue a lasting defeat of Isis," Maj Gen Hill said.

"Certainly, our withdrawal from Syria is deliberate. It will be done in ways to every extent possible to continue to enable the trusted partners that have really been on point in Syria in the defeat of ISIS and, certainly in protecting our forces we [will] conduct that repositioning in preparation for future operations.”

There are currently some 2,000 Marines and US infantry forces in Syria today and around 5,000 in Iraq.

Asked about the time frame for a withdrawal, Maj Gen Hill said: “What I think is clear is it will be conditions-based for us.

“An operation of this nature, a withdrawal under pressure, is a complicated military operation and we’ll remain very deliberate in that and take as long as we need to do so, to continue to protect our force and enable the continued success of the defeat of ISIS.”

Meanwhile, there have been suggestions that President Trump is preparing to use military budgets to pay for his controversial wall on the southern border with Mexico.

However, Maj Gen Hill said he remained confident he would have all "necessary" resources at his disposal.

"Ultimately, at the national level, those are decisions for our elected leaders and we’ll continue to execute our mission here as they’ve given it to us and trust we’ll be resourced to carry out that mission well,” he said.