The withdrawal of the nearly 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria is complete, but instead of leaving the area, they will head to western Iraq to continue the campaign against Islamic State militants, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday.
U.S. special forces were withdrawn from northern Syria amid growing chaos after Turkey began military operation in the region earlier this month. The decision of an American troop withdrawal from northern Syria who had been deployed alongside Kurdish forces has given the green light for Turkish advance, prompting criticism both domestically and abroad.
The newest development of the situation, and cease fire between Turkish and Kurdish forces has allowed Western troops leave the region, but Mark Esper told reporters that U.S. withdrawal will take weeks not days. The five-day cease-fire in the region was announced by Vice President Mike Pence after Turkey agreed to temporarily pause in its military operation. The new mission for those troops would be to “help defend Iraq” and carry out a counter-ISIS mission. It is unclear whether the U.S. troops moving to Iraq will use it as a base to launch ground raids into Syria.
The additional U.S. troop contingent would add to the more than 5,000 American troops already based in the country.
Mark Esper said Saturday that the fragile cease-fire was generally held in the whole region.
“We see a stabilization of the lines if you will on the ground. And we do get reports of intermittent fires, this and that. That doesn’t surprise me necessarily,” he added.
The Turkey defense ministry said Sunday that it was closely monitoring the Kurdish retreat, claiming there “are absolutely no impediments to withdrawal.” The also added that information about which roads can be used safely was transmitted to U.S. military authorities. It also claimed one soldier was killed amid sporadic clashes with Kurdish fighters yesterday.
The new base position for personnel withdrawn from Syria could reveal their future objectives and mission in the region.