Donald Trump Says Saudi Arabia, Not 'Great Country' U.S., Will Rebuild Syria

Laborers clear debris from a destroyed building in the Syrian city of Raqqa on October 18. A year after a U.S.-backed alliance of Syrian fighters drove ISIS from the northern city of Raqqa, much of the city remains in rubble. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump said Monday that Saudi Arabia has committed to rebuilding Syria, which has been ravaged by years of civil war among the government, rebels, jihadis and other factions.

In a tweet posted Monday, Trump said that "Saudi Arabia has now agreed to spend the necessary money needed to help rebuild Syria, instead of the United States."

He added, "See? Isn't it nice when immensely wealthy countries help rebuild their neighbors rather than a Great Country, the U.S., that is 5000 miles away. Thanks to Saudi A!"

The announcement came days after Trump declared the sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops from the fight against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Syria, where the president said the jihadis had been defeated.

Laborers clear debris from a destroyed building in Raqqa, Syria, on October 18. A year after a U.S.-backed alliance of Syrian fighters drove ISIS from the city, much of it remains in rubble. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia were both major sponsors of the 2011 rebel and jihadi uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but cut back their support as the increasingly Islamist-led insurgency lost territory to separate offensives by ISIS and a pro-Syrian government offensive bolstered by Russia and Iran. ISIS was then largely eradicated by two rival campaigns waged by a U.S.-led coalition and the pro-Syrian government axis.

With Turkey now the last major power still backing the Syrian opposition, Saudi Arabia has joined the U.S. in backing a mostly Kurdish faction known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, opposed by Turkey because of alleged links to an ongoing Kurdish insurgency at home. In August, Saudi Arabia devoted $100 million to reconstruction efforts in areas under the Syrian Democratic Forces' control. The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center has also boosted humanitarian efforts in Syria, including providing sheep to individuals in Aleppo and a $3.528 million project to provide health care at the Bab al-Hawa Hospital in northern Syria, the Riyadh-based Arab News reported Sunday.

The United Nations has estimated that Syria's war has cost the country about $388 billion, including some $120 billion in physical damage. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in October that the U.S. would deny aid to the central government in Damascus until a political process was launched to oust Assad, whom Washington has accused of war crimes, and forces said to be under Iranian control were expelled.

The Syrian government considers both the U.S. and Turkey to be invading forces due to their lack of coordination with Damascus and has similarly condemned Saudi Arabia for its efforts to undermine Assad. As the Syrian leader reasserted control over most of the country, however, a number of his former foes have reportedly worked to re-establish diplomatic ties. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has reportedly been working through the more neutral United Arab Emirates to normalize relations with Syria. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Time in April that he expected Assad to remain in power but advised him to distance himself from Iran, Saudi Arabia's top regional rival.

Riyadh has made no public statements in response to Trump's tweet, and no other details of the alleged arrangement were made clear.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia's relationship has come under greater scrutiny after widespread allegations that Salman was behind the October slaying of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and reports of civilian casualties in the kingdom's war against a Zaidi Shiite group known as Ansar Allah, or the Houthis, in Yemen.

Earlier this month, the Senate took an unprecedented step by adopting a resolution to demand that the U.S. cease military support for the Saudi-led war, in a bipartisan challenge to the White House.