Some officials warn that the remaining American troops in Syria are more vulnerable to attack since cuts Mr. Trump ordered last fall, and point to a clash with Russian troops in the northeast last month that left seven American soldiers injured. General McKenzie called that episode, in which a Russian armored vehicle rammed an American ground patrol, “reckless.”
Analysts of military policy also note that, even as Mr. Trump has withdrawn several thousand troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, he has ordered nearly twice that many, about 14,000 forces, to the Persian Gulf region in the past year or so in response to Iranian attacks and provocations.
At any given time, 45,000 to 65,000 American troops are in the region, spread out between Jordan and Oman, assigned to operate airfields, run key headquarters, sail warships and fly warplanes, and stage for deployments to places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The numbers change substantially depending on the presence of an aircraft carrier strike group or two in the region, and whether a large group of Marines is afloat in those waters.
Mr. Trump has long vowed to withdraw all U.S. forces from both Iraq and Syria. “We’re bringing them home from Syria. We’re bringing them home from Iraq,” he said on “Fox & Friends” last month. “These endless wars, they never stop.”
In a meeting with journalists after the White House gathering last month, Mr. al-Kadhimi reaffirmed the need for American military assistance in fighting remnants of the Islamic State.
“ISIS sleeper cells are still operating in Iraq,” said Mr. al-Kadhimi, a former chief of Iraqi intelligence, speaking through an interpreter. “The threat is still there.”
Indeed, the Islamic State in Iraq is still able to wage a low-tech, low-cost, largely rural — and lethal — campaign, American and Iraqi counterterrorism officials say. While ISIS has not carried out attacks on the scale that it did a few years ago, the number of attacks began to grow again this year.