Syria Troop Withdrawal Is Donald Trump's 'Own Decision,' Says White House: 'We Will Not Turn Syria Into a Utopian Democracy'

President Donald Trump's administration has defended his decision to quickly withdraw the U.S. military from Syria, where the Republican leader has declared the defeat of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

Trump tweeted Wednesday that the U.S. had "defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency." White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed the commander-in-chief's declaration of victory and elaborated that the administration has "started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign," but maintained that "the United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary."

The news appeared as an apparent reversal for an administration that seemed to be further entrenching itself in Syria's nearly eight-year civil war by challenging Damascus and its Iranian ally. Facing media scrutiny over what appeared to be conflicting stances toward the conflict, a senior administration spokesperson contended that "the president's statements on this topic have been 100 percent consistent from the campaign and through today."

The official denied that Trump was influenced by a recent phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which was soon accompanied by the State Department announcing the proposed sale of a $3.5 billion Patriot surface-to-air missile system to Turkey, saying "the president made his own decision" and did not discuss the matter with his Turkish counterpart.

Trump "has said we do not have a military goal of ending the civil war in Syria," the spokesperson added.

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U.S. Army vehicles are seen supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces in Hajin, Deir Ezzor province, eastern Syria, December 15. Like Iraqi Kurds after the 2011 pullout there, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces fear being abandoned by the U.S. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Trump was often critical of his predecessor's handling of the costly, overlapping "endless wars" waged by the U.S. since the 9/11 attacks. He advised against President Barack Obama's support for a 2011 rebel and jihadi uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as the former leader's decision to pull troops out of Iraq that same year, a move that led to a revival of the Sunni Muslim insurgency that emerged in the country in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion.

When asked about comparisons between Trump's decision to pull troops from Syria and Obama's 2011 withdrawal from Iraq, the spokesperson pointed out the difference between the "hundreds of thousands of troops" once deployed to Iraq and the "infinitely smaller targeted troop presence" in northeastern Syria, where U.S. soldiers have assisted a mostly Kurdish group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces battle ISIS.

"We will not turn Syria into a utopian democracy," the spokesperson added.

The U.S. launched its military campaign in 2014 and sided with the Syrian Democratic Forces a year later, deeming them to be a viable alternative to an increasingly Islamist-led insurgency that itself had lost out to ISIS in much of the country. Also in 2015, Russia intervened on behalf of Assad and helped his armed forces—along with Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militias—retake large swaths of the war-torn country.

These two rival campaigns managed to nearly eradicate ISIS entirely, with the Syrian Democratic Forces recently seizing the militants' last town on the eastern banks of the Euphrates and pro-Syrian government fighters taking on the jihadis on the other side of the river. Though the Syrian Democratic Forces' political wing has entered into talks with Damascus, the dialogue has repeatedly stalled as Assad's administration accused Kurdish separatists of attempting to divide the country with U.S. support.

Fellow U.S. ally Turkey considered certain Syrian Democratic Forces groups, such as the People's Protection Units (YPG), to be linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging a separatist insurgency against the Turkish government for three decades. Trump reportedly warned Erdogan not to pursue fresh attacks on Kurdish positions during their discussion last week, but Ankara has given no indication it would not carry out its promise of a new offensive in northeastern Syria, where U.S. troops would no longer be an obstacle.

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A young boy rides his bicycle in front of a gate ornated with images of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (L) and his late father Hafez al-Assad in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, August 14. Though the U.S. has refused to endorse Assad's government, the Syrian leader was beginning to rebuild relations with regional powers that dismissed him when the war broke out in 2011. ANDREI BORODULIN/AFP/Getty Images

The Syrian Democratic Forces called the U.S. decision to withdraw a "stab in the back and a betrayal of the blood of thousands of fighters" in a statement cited Wednesday by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitor with ties to the Syrian opposition. The decision was welcomed in Moscow as Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova hailed it as potentially leading to "a real prospect for a political solution."

Though the Trump administration had largely abandoned efforts to oust Assad by force, various statements from both Washington and the Pentagon suggested that his departure from power was still on the agenda due to widespread reports of war crimes. The president has also twice ordered strikes against the Syrian leader's government in response to alleged chemical weapons attack, in moves condemned by Russia and Iran. As the Syrian government has deemed U.S. presence illegal, Moscow and Tehran have both maintained that the Pentagon had no legal mandate to remain in the country.

The U.S. has attempted to instill democratic ideals amid prior Middle East interventions; however, these endeavors have led to major instability in the region. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq—which was based on false allegations that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction—also exacerbated sectarian and religious tensions. In Libya, the NATO-backed rebellion that overthrew longtime leader Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011 plummeted the country into civil war and was later referred to by Obama as the "worst mistake" of his tenure.

Syria Troop Withdrawal Is Donald Trump's 'Own Decision,' Says White House: 'We Will Not Turn Syria Into a Utopian Democracy' | World