The nearly one thousand American troops that still have to retreat from northern Syria are stationed in Western Iraq to help in the fight against IS, says US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Sunday morning.
The withdrawal from Syria does not take days but weeks, says Esper. “The current plan is to reposition those troops in Iraq.” These troops must help defend Iraq and carry out a mission against IS.
The plan can still be changed in the meantime, Esper adds. If the current plan goes ahead, these soldiers will join the five thousand US troops already stationed in Iraq. There they train the Iraqi armed forces and help reduce IS fighters.
The announcement comes a few days after a deal the US had concluded with Turkey. Among other things, the countries agreed on a ceasefire in Northeast Syria. Turkey started an offensive in the border area after US President Donald Trump decided to remove US troops from that area.
Turkey is fighting there against the Kurdish YPG, the militia that leads the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Erdogan sees these Kurds as an extension of the PKK, an organization that is regarded by several countries as a terrorist group.
The Turks only want to stop this offensive once the YPG has withdrawn. According to US Vice President Mike Pence, the Kurds have already agreed to leave Northeast Syria. The agreed ceasefire must offer the Kurds the space to actually withdraw from the area.