"We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there," Jeffrey, envoy to the global coalition against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) told Defense One on Thursday. Jeffrey added that the actual number of troops in northeastern Syria is "a lot more" than the 200-400 that Trump agreed to leave behind last year.
Trump's withdrawal appeared to make good on his campaign-trail promise to extricate the US from its "forever wars" in the Middle East. Trump, who referred to Syria in 2018 as "sand and death," angered a host of Pentagon chiefs and diplomats when he announced the near-total pullout from the country last October. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in protest when Trump first announced withdrawal plans in 2018, and Jeffrey said on Thursday that the decision was "the most controversial thing in my fifty years in government."
Jeffrey's predecessor, Brett McGurk, also handed in his notice when Trump revealed the pullout. Taking over from McGurk, Jeffrey and his team routinely misled the president to ensure that "there was never a Syria withdrawal."