The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration are seeking to assemble an Arab force to replace the U.S. military in Syria. According to U.S. officials, the plan would use the Arab force to help stabilize the northeastern part of the country after the defeat of the Islamic State.
According to the report, John Bolton, Trump’s new national security adviser, called Abbas Kamel, Egypt’s acting intelligence chief, in attempt to persuade Egypt to join the force.
Emerging details of the plan come days after U.S.-led airstrikes hit several targets in Syria in response to a deadly chemical attack in the country. Trump had vowed in early April that the U.S. military mission in Syria was coming to a “rapid end” - a statement which appears to be at odds with Trump’s recent military escalation in the country.
In early April a press release from the White House said, “We expect our allies in the region and beyond to work toward peace and ensure that ISIS never re-emerges.” The press release came after Trump met with his national security team to discuss the fate of some $200 million in U.S. stabilization assistance for Syria that the White House put on hold after Trump said he wanted to leave Syria “very soon.” The State Department was to have spent the money on building up the country’s infrastructure, including power, water and roads.
Trump in recent weeks has asked Saudi Arabia to contribute $4 billion for reconstruction in Syria, according to a U.S. official, as part of the president’s effort to get other countries to pay for stabilizing the country so the U.S. isn’t on the hook.
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"Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the U.A.E. have all been approached with respect to financial support and more broadly to contribute,” an administration official said.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the plan for an Arab force to take over for the U.S. in Syria is popular with Erik Prince, the founder of para-military company Blackwater and who has helped the U.A.E. and Somalia set up private security forces.
Mr. Prince reportedly said Monday that he was contacted by Arab officials about the plan to build a force in Syria but that he was waiting to see what Mr. Trump would do.
This isn't the first mention of an "Arab force" replacing U.S. troops abroad that has been associated with the Trump White House. In March it was revealed, top GOP fundraiser Elliot Broidy once pitched Trump a plan to build a thousands-strong Muslim army — to be advised by retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal — that would help the U.A.E. battle the Taliban and the Islamic State in Afghanistan.
The plan was revealed in a series of leaked emails that Broidy is now claiming in court were hacked by the government of Qatar.
The Associated Press contributed to this report