1,000 US troops leave Syria to 'help defend Iraq' from Isil as Kurds withdraw
US forces began withdrawing from their largest base in northern Syria yesterday after the Pentagon chief confirmed nearly 1,000 troops would be relocated to "help defend Iraq" against Isil's re-emergence.
As President Donald Trump claimed he was "bringing soldiers home", he was contradicted by Defence Secretary Mark Esper, who said the troops were instead headed for Syria's neighbour to join an existing US force of 5,000.
"The current game plan is for those forces to reposition into western Iraq," Mr Esper said, not ruling out counter-terrorism missions from Iraq into Syria.
A first convoy of more than 70 US armoured vehicles escorted by helicopters rumbled out of the Sarrin base in northern Syria. The withdrawal effectively abandons America's ally, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to Turkish firepower.
Ankara began its cross-border attack on October 9 with the goal of pushing back Kurdish People's Protection Units fighters from its border and establishing a zone to which it could return Syrian refugees. As the SDF came under pressure, duties such as policing Isil detainees were halted, enabling escapes of Isil members and families, including Irish woman Lisa Smith.
The Kurds made a deal with Damascus last week allowing Syrian troops into areas under their control in exchange for protection from the Turks. Then a US-brokered ceasefire aimed to allow Kurdish forces to leave a 120km strip of land along the Turkish border.
Yesterday, the Turkish defence ministry said the SDF forces there had withdrawn, a move confirmed by the Kurdish group.
In other parts of northern Syria, fighting continued as Turkish warplanes and Turkish-backed troops worked to oust Kurds from positions along the Turkey-Syria border.
After saying last week it was "time to bring our soldiers back home", Mr Trump continued to claim they were definitely returning, despite being contradicted by Mr Esper.
Yesterday, the president referred to his defence secretary on Twitter as "Mark Esperanto" and added: "We have secured the oil. Bringing soldiers home!" (© Daily Telegraph, London)