U.S. troops in Syria go­ing to Iraq

Mil­i­tary con­tin­u­ing fight against the Is­lamic State group: Pen­tagon chief

The Peterborough Examiner - - CANADA & WORLD - LOLITA C. BAL­DOR

KABUL — While U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in­sists he’s bring­ing home Amer­i­cans from “end­less wars” in the Mideast, his Pen­tagon chief says all U.S. troops leav­ing Syria will go to western Iraq and the U.S. mil­i­tary will con­tinue op­er­a­tions against the Is­lamic State group.

They aren’t com­ing home and the United States isn’t leav­ing the tur­bu­lent Mid­dle East, ac­cord­ing to cur­rent plans out­lined by U.S. De­fence Sec­re­tary Mark Esper be­fore he ar­rived in Afghanista­n on Sun­day. The fight in Syria against ISIL, once spear­headed by Amer­i­can al­lied Syr­ian Kurds who have been cast aside by Trump, will be un­der­taken by U.S. forces, pos­si­bly from neigh­bour­ing Iraq.

Esper did not rule out the idea that U.S. forces would con­duct coun­tert­er­ror­ism mis­sions from Iraq into Syria. But he told re­porters trav­el­ling with him that those de­tails will be worked out over time.

Trump none­the­less tweeted: “USA sol­diers are not in com­bat or cease­fire zones. We have se­cured the Oil. Bring­ing sol­diers home!”

The pres­i­dent de­clared that Wash­ing­ton had no stake in de­fend­ing the Kur­dish fight­ers who died by the thou­sands as the U.S.’s part­ners fight­ing in Syria against ISIL ex­trem­ists. Turkey con­ducted a week­long of­fen­sive into north­east­ern Syria against the Kur­dish fight­ers be­fore a mil­i­tary pause.

“It’s time for us to come home,” Trump said, de­fend­ing his re­moval of U.S. troops from that part of Syria and prais­ing his de­ci­sion to send more troops and mil­i­tary equip­ment to Saudi Ara­bia to help the king­dom de­fend against Iran.

Esper’s com­ments to re­porters trav­el­ling with him were the first to specif­i­cally lay out where Amer­i­can troops will go as they shift from Syria and what the counter-ISIL fight could look like. Esper said he has spo­ken to his Iraqi coun­ter­part about the plan to shift about 1,000 troops from Syria into western Iraq.

Trump’s top aide, asked about the fact that the troops were not com­ing home as the pres­i­dent claimed they would, said, “Well, they will even­tu­ally.”

Act­ing chief of staff Mick Mul­vaney told “Fox News Sun­day” that “the quick­est way to get them out of dan­ger was to get them into Iraq.”

As Esper left Wash­ing­ton on Satur­day, U.S. troops were con­tin­u­ing to pull out of north­ern Syria af­ter Turkey’s in­va­sion into the bor­der re­gion. Re­ports of spo­radic clashes con­tin­ued be­tween Turk­ish-backed fight­ers and the Syr­ian Kur­dish forces de­spite a five-day cease­fire agree­ment ham­mered out Thurs­day be­tween U.S. and

Turk­ish lead­ers.

The Turk­ish mil­i­tary’s death toll has risen to seven sol­diers since it launched its of­fen­sive on Oct. 9.

Trump or­dered the bulk of the ap­prox­i­mately 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria to with­draw af­ter Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan made it clear in a tele­phone call that his forces were about to in­vade Syria to push back Kur­dish forces that Turkey con­sid­ers ter­ror­ists.

The pull­out largely aban­dons Amer­ica’s Kur­dish al­lies who have fought ISIL along­side U.S. troops for sev­eral years. Be­tween 200 and 300 U.S. troops will re­main at the south­ern Syr­ian out­post of Al-Tanf.

Esper said the troops go­ing into Iraq will have two mis­sions.

“One is to help de­fend Iraq and two is to per­form a counter-ISIL mis­sion as we sort through the next steps,” he said. “Things could change be­tween now and when­ever we com­plete the with­drawal, but that’s the game plan right now.”

The United States cur­rently has more than 5,000 Amer­i­can forces in Iraq, un­der an agree­ment be­tween the two coun­tries. The United States pulled its troops out of Iraq in 2011 when com­bat op­er­a­tions there ended, but they went back in af­ter ISIL be­gan to take over large swaths of the coun­try in 2014.

MAYA ALLERUZZO THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

U.S. De­fence Sec­re­tary Mark Esper said Sun­day that all U.S. troops leav­ing Syria will go to western Iraq.

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