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After deadliest day for U.S. forces in Syria, withdrawal could get more complicated

ISIS claimed responsibility for a deadly attack in northern Syria's Manbij that killed four Americans, countering the Trump administration's assessment that the terrorist group had been defeated. While Vice President Pence repeated that the U.S. is now able to "hand off" that fight to allies, other officials expressed concern that withdrawal plans have enlivened the enemy. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, two American soldiers, along with a Pentagon civilian and an American contractor, were among 16 people killed by an apparent suicide bomber in the city of Manbij near the Turkish border.

    It was the deadliest day in Syria for American forces since its involvement on the ground there began in 2015.

    As Nick Schifrin reports, the attack came amid the Trump administration's push to withdraw American forces from Syria.

  • And a warning:

    Images in this report may be disturbing.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On a street in Northern Syria, the restaurant where U.S. troops were having a meeting is gutted. The building facade is crumpled. And the road is stained with blood.

    A closed-circuit camera video posted to Twitter shows the street before the attack and the moment of the apparent suicide bombing. A U.S. military helicopter evacuated the wounded.

    What the Americans have been doing in Manbij is shown in these photos posted to Facebook. They conduct patrols in a local market, speak to residents and try to maintain stability is city liberated from ISIS more than two years ago. In 2014, ISIS controlled huge swathes of Syria, in black.

    Today, the U.S. and its local allies have seized all but this area in the east. Today's attack in Manbij is hundreds of miles away. But ISIS immediately claimed responsibility. And a U.S. official says ISIS has launched at least six major attacks in the last few weeks.

    But, today, at the State Department, Vice President Pence repeated the administration's claim ISIS has been vanquished.

  • Mike Pence:

    We're now actually able to begin to hand off the fight against ISIS in Syria to our coalition partners, and we are bringing our troops home. The caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There are about 2,000 U.S. troops in Northern Syria. Administration and defense officials say they will withdraw, but there's no deadline, and the details will be worked out through talks with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    Today, Erdogan said that plan wouldn't be derailed

  • Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

    It could be construed that the attack was meant to impact Mr. Trump's decision. But I think the honorable Mr. Trump's determination on this is, he won't stand back in the face of a terrorist attack.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But announcing the withdrawal is exactly what made U.S. troops vulnerable, said Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    My concern about the statements made by President Trump is you would set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we're fighting. And, as they get bolder, the people we're trying to help are going — going to get more uncertain.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The people the U.S. has been helping are the Syrian Kurds. Manbij was supposed to be the model for Syria's future, bridging the difficult divide between the Kurds and these Turkish forces, who consider the Kurds terrorists.

    Today's attack could make a complex withdrawal more complicated. And it's a reminder U.S. troops remain in harm's way, said acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

  • Patrick Shanahan:

    Our fight against terrorism is ongoing, and we will remain vigilant and committed to its destruction.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And that means, despite the order to withdrawal, today, U.S. troops conducted another patrol. They will keep fighting in Syria and keep facing a threat.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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