Washington, US | May 20
The State Department unit overseeing the fight against the Islamic State group will stay in business for at least six more months, reversing an administration plan for the unit’s imminent downgrade even as President Donald Trump presses ahead with a speedy U.S. exit from Syria.
A plan initiated by Rex Tillerson before he was fired as secretary of state in March would have folded the office of the special envoy to the global coalition into the department’s counterterrorism bureau as early as spring, officials said. Tillerson’s successor, Mike Pompeo, canceled the plan this month, and the office will stay an independent entity until at least December, when there will be a new review, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to discuss the plan publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The office reports directly to the secretary of state and the president, and the planned shift would have undercut its status and the priority of its mission. It could have led to staffing and budget cuts as well as the departure of the special envoy, Brett McGurk. He is now expected to remain in his job at least through the end of the year.
Still, the officials said Trump’s intent to reduce the U.S. military and civilian stabilization presence in Syria has not changed and is, in fact, accelerating. The State Department has ended all funding for stabilization programs in Syria’s northwest. Islamic State militants have been almost entirely eliminated from the region, which is controlled by a hodgepodge of other extremist groups and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government forces.
At least some of the U.S. money for those projects is expected to be redirected Syria’s northeast where IS fighters remain, the officials said.