UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — The United States has completed its military withdrawal from northeastern Syria, bringing the number of US troops in the rest of Syria to about 600, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in an interview with Reuters.
Esper’s comments could signal the end of a period of turmoil over the US military presence in Syria after President Donald Trump’s initial withdrawal order in October.
Since Trump’s announcement, US forces in Syria have fallen by about 40 percent. The number was about 1,000.
Esber stressed that he retains the ability to bring in small numbers of troops and remove them as necessary in Syria. But he said the number of troops would fluctuate at 600 in the foreseeable future.
“The number will be relatively constant around that figure,” Esper said on Wednesday evening as he returned from a NATO summit on the outskirts of London. But if we see that things are happening … I will be able to increase the number slightly.”
Esber did not rule out further troop reductions if European allies contributed to the mission in Syria.
“The coalition is talking a lot again,” Esber said, without mentioning any imminent new contribution. Some allies may want to contribute troops.”
“If an allied NATO member state decides to provide 50 personnel to us, I may be able to withdraw 50 people,” he said.
The US military says it is focusing on preventing the Islamic State from re-emerging in Syria and carried out a raid last month that killed the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Trump said during his visit to London that he wanted to keep US troops to ensure that Syrian oil reserves do not fall back into the hands of the militant organization.
“We kept oil. Oil was what financed ISIS.”
– Not provided with Turkey on S-400 system –
Trump softened his plans to pull out of Syria after being criticized by Congress involving senior Republican Party members who say he paved the way for Turkey’s long-threatened offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria, one of America’s biggest allies in the war. On the Islamic State.
NATO diplomats are concerned that Turkey, a NATO member since 1952 and a key Middle East ally, is increasingly acting unilaterally, launching its offensive in Syria on US-backed forces and buying the S-400 air defense system from Russia.
Washington says the S-400 system runs counter to NATO air defenses and poses a threat to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighters and announced in July Turkey was excluded from the F-35. It has also threatened sanctions against Ankara.
After summit talks between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Esper noted that Turkey had not budged from its position on the S-400.
“Do not progress at this point,” Esper said.
But under pressure from other NATO members, including the United States, Erdogan has backtracked on a threat to block defense plans for the Baltic states and Poland unless allies classify Kurdish fighters as terrorists.
“I think it is a positive move forward,” Esber said of the shift in Turkey’s stance.
“They have been a precious part of NATO for decades, from the early days. That is why we have worked to remain with us. ”
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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