Trump to Keep U.S. Troops in Iraq to 'Watch' Iran

'We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It's perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up'

President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with American manufacturers in the Oval Office of the White House, Jan. 31, 2019, in Washington.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

U.S. President Donald Trump said in an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday that he plans to keep U.S. troops in Iraq to keep an eye on Iran.

"All I want to do is be able to watch," Trump said. "We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It's perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up."

"And this is what a lot of people don't understand," he continued. "We're going to keep watching and we're going to keep seeing and if there's trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we're going to know it before they do."

Trump's comments come amid a U.S. withdrawal from Syria and a draw down from Afghanistan, which the Republican-led U.S. Senate rebuked last week.

The Senate voted 68-23 in favor of a non-binding amendment, drafted by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying it was the sense of the Senate that Islamic militant groups in both countries continue to pose a "serious threat" to the United States. 

Partial transcript of the interview via CBS:

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about your intelligence leaders who were testifying on Capitol Hill this week. Did you read the report that they presented?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I did.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And did you - there was some conversation you had because you went on Twitter and you called them naive and told them to go back to school.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think--

MARGARET BRENNAN: What specifically was wrong about what they said?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think- let me just say it wasn't so much a report. It was the questions and answers as the report was submitted and they were asked questions and answers. We've done an incredible job with Syria. When I took over Syria it was infested with ISIS. It was all over the place. And now you have very little ISIS and you have the caliphate almost knocked out. We will be announcing in the not too distant future 100 percent of the caliphate which is the area- the land- the area- 100. We're at 99 percent right now, we'll be at 100. When I took it over it was a disaster. I think we've done a great job with that. At the same time, at a certain point, we want to bring our people back home. If you look at Afghanistan we're going in very soon we'll be going into our 19th year spending 50 billion dollars a year. Now if you go back and look at any of my campaign speeches or rallies, I talked about it all the time.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You did. You've been talking about- and that--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: --I want to bring people home.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But that's one of the questions here. Is because you have these strongly held convictions and people ask, "Well, why don't the facts influence those opinions, if those facts change?" And- and your director of national intelligence said ISIS still has strongholds in Iraq and Syria--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: By the way--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --and will launch attacks from there.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You're going to always have pockets of something. What-- you're going to have people, like the one armed man who blew up a restaurant. You're going to have pockets. But you're not going to keep armies there because you have a few people. Or you even have fairly reasonable numbers of people. We've been there for many, many years. We were supposed to be in Syria for four months. We've been there for years. We have been in Afghanistan for 19 years. And by the way, I've been hitting very hard in Afghanistan and now we're negotiating with the Taliban. We'll see what happens, who knows--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Can you trust the Taliban? Can you actually broker a deal?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Look, whether we should have been there in the first place, that's first question. Second question--

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's where 9/11 was launched from.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: --we've been there for 19 years, almost, we are fighting very well. We're fighting harder than ever before. And I think that they will- I think they're tired and, I think everybody's tired. We got to get out of these endless wars and bring our folks back home. Now, that doesn't mean we're not going to be watching with intelligence. We're going to be watching, and watching closely. North Korea--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Isn't that harder when you don't have troops on the ground?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, everything's harder. But, you know you pay a big price for troops on the ground. We're spending hundreds of billions of dollars on military. We're the policemen of the world and we don't--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because the concern in here by your intelligence chiefs, though, is that you could in that vacuum see a resurgence of ISIS.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Sure.

MARGARET BRENNAN: See a resurgence of terror groups like Al-Qaeda--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And you know what we'll do? We'll come back if we have to. We have very fast airplanes, we have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly, and I'm not leaving. We have a base in Iraq and the base is a fantastic edifice. I mean I was there recently, and I couldn't believe the money that was spent on these massive runways. And these- I've rarely seen anything like it. And it's there. And we'll be there. And frankly, we're hitting the caliphate from Iraq and as we slowly withdraw from Syria. Now the other thing--

MARGARET BRENNAN: How many troops are still in Syria? When are they coming home?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 2,000 troops.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When are they coming home?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They're starting to, as we gain the remainder, the final remainder of the caliphate of the area, they'll be going to our base in Iraq, and ultimately some will be coming home. But we're going to be there and we're going to be staying--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So that's a matter of months?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have to protect Israel. We have to protect other things that we have. But we're- yeah, they'll be coming back in a matter of time. Look, we're protecting the world. We're spending more money than anybody's ever spent in history, by a lot. We spent, over the last five years, close to 50 billion dollars a year in Afghanistan. That's more than most countries spend for everything including education, medical, and everything else, other than a few countries.

Reuters contributed to this report