The United States has completed its military pullback in northeastern Syria, settling into a more stable posture of about 600 troops in the rest of the country after repositioning and reducing forces, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said during an interview with Reuters.
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Esper explained that this could signal the end of a period of turbulence and uncertainty surrounding the U.S. military presence in Syria after President Donald Trump’s initial withdrawal order in October. Since then, troop levels in Syria have fallen about 40 percent from around 1,000.
Furthermore, he stressed retaining the ability to move in and out smaller numbers of forces as needed into Syria, but suggested the number of troops will fluctuate around the 600-level for the foreseeable future.
The Defense Secretary, after returning from NATO meeting in London, expressed not being able to reduce U.S. troop levels in Syria further if European allies contributed to the Syria mission. “The coalition is talking a lot again. We could see some allies want to volunteer troops,” he said, without suggesting any new contribution was imminent.
The U.S. military says it is focused on preventing a resurgence of Islamic State in Syria. President Donald Trump, in London, expressed he wanted remaining forces to ensure that oil reserves there don’t fall back into the militant group’s hands.
“We kept the oil. And the oil is what fueled ISIS,” Trump said.
The Republican president softened his pullout plans for Syria after backlash from Congress, including among key Republicans, who say he cleared the way for a long-threatened Turkish incursion against Kurdish forces in Syria who had been America’s top allies in the battle against Islamic State.