All United States troops withdrawing from Syria expected to go to Iraq: Pentagon chief

Reuters
New Delhi, India Updated: Oct 20, 2019, 11:30 AM(IST)

File photo of US Defence Secretary Mark Esper. Photograph:( Reuters )

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It is unclear whether the US troops will use Iraq as a base to launch ground raids into Syria and carry out airstrikes against Islamic State militants.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Saturday (October 19) that all of the nearly 1,000 troops withdrawing from northern Syria are expected to move to western Iraq to continue the campaign against Islamic State militants and "to help defend Iraq."

"Certainly (to) be discussed at a military level is what does the next phase of the counter ISIS campaign look like," Esper told reporters en route to the Middle East.

It is unclear whether the US troops will use Iraq as a base to launch ground raids into Syria and carry out airstrikes against Islamic State militants.

The Pentagon has begun removing all its troops in northern Syria, a US official said Monday, after President Donald Trump ordered them to leave in the face of Turkey's attacks on Kurds in the area.

Nearly 1,000 troops will vacate the country, leaving behind only a small contingent of 150 in the southern Syria base at Al Tanf, the official said.

"We are executing the order," the official told AFP.

Last Sunday Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Trump had ordered the withdrawal of the remaining troops deployed in northern Syria, with the US seeking to avoid getting caught between two allies.

But Esper did not make clear whether the troops would simply pull back to a position further south or quit the country completely.

Trump's critics accuse him of abandoning the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who Ankara says support Kurdish rebels inside Turkey.

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