US says will remain in Syria until Islamic State eliminated

WASHINGTON/PARIS, Gretel Johnston and Pól Ó Grádaigh (dpa)- The United States is committed to completely eliminating Islamic State in Syria, the White House said Wednesday, noting that the mission to eradicate the terrorist group "is coming to a rapid end."
The statement helps to clarify recent comments by US President Donald Trump indicating he wanted to pull US forces out of Syria "very soon."

Trump complained Tuesday during a news conference that the mission is "very costly for our country, and it helps other countries a hell of a lot more than it helps us."
The White House noted that there is a small Islamic State presence in Syria that coalition forces have not eradicated. It also said the US would "continue to consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans."
The statement aligns the White House more closely with comments made by General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command, in Washington on Tuesday.
Votel said while "very good military progress" has been made in the last couple years, "the hard part I think is in front of us."
That includes stabilizing areas, consolidating gains, returning people to their homes and addressing the long-term issues of reconstruction, he said.
There has been speculation about Washington's future role in Syria, fuelled further by Trump's remarks at an event last week in Richfield, Ohio.
"We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now," he said.
He also railed against the money the US is pouring into the region, saying that "we spent, as of three months ago, 7 trillion dollars in the Middle East. We'd build a school; they'd blow it up. We'd build it again; they'd blow it up."
Prior to the White House issuing its statement, Trump consulted with French President Emmanuel Macron in a telephone call. The two expressed their determination to fight Islamic State "right to the end," the Elysee Palace said.
"Nothing must distract us from the aim of preventing any resurgence of Islamic State in the region," it added.
Macron and Trump also discussed Syria last week. And the French leader has spoken to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose troops launched a major operation in January against the Kurdish forces who are Washington's main ally on the ground against Islamic State.
Erdogan was joined Wednesday in Ankara by Russian President Vladimir Putin and their Iranian counterpart Hassan Rowhani for a summit to discuss the conflict, but they failed to lay out a path forward.
The war in Syria entered its eighth year last month, and Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of a sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed more than 80 people.
Germany, Britain, France and the US on Wednesday slammed Russia for "enabling" such atrocities by the Syrian government.
"For more than seven long years there has been no let-up in the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime, enabled by its backers, in flagrant violation of international law," the four foreign ministers said in a joint statement.
A UN investigation panel for chemical weapons attacks found that the Russian-backed government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible.
Russia angrily rejected the panel's report and forced it to shut down a month later by vetoing a proposal at the UN Security Council to extend its mandate.
Moscow failed to fulfil a promise that Damascus would give up all its chemical weapons, the joint statement charged.
Al-Assad agreed in 2013 to give up chemical weapons in a Russian-brokered deal after hundreds of people were killed in a poison gas attack on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.
The use of chemical weapons is banned by international law.
Macron, who took office a month after the Khan Sheikhoun attack, has said his country would carry out airstrikes if further chemical attacks took place in Syria.

Wednesday, April 4th 2018
Gretel Johnston and Pól Ó Grádaigh (dpa)

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