US forces ‘to quit Syria in weeks’
BEIRUT, Feb 11: The United States is likely just weeks away from starting the withdrawal of ground troops from Syria ordered by President Donald Trump, the top U.S. commander overseeing American forces in the Middle East said on Sunday.
U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, cautioned that the exact timing would depend on the situation in Syria, where U.S.-backed fighters have launched a final assault against Islamic State enclaves near the Iraqi border.
The U.S. military has already started withdrawing equipment from Syria. Asked whether the withdrawal of America's more than 2,000 troops would begin in days or weeks, Votel said: "Probably weeks. But again, it will all be driven by the situation on the ground."
Hundreds of additional troops have been sent to Syria to facilitate the withdrawal. U.S. officials have long estimated that the Syria pullout could take until sometime in March or April to execute fully.
The Arab League said on Monday there was no consensus yet among member states that may allow the reinstatement of Syria's membership which was suspended in 2011 over its crackdown on protesters at the start of the civil war.
U.S.-allied Arab states including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates backed the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad for years but Damascus was able to steadily crush rebel fighters with military backing from Russia and Iran. -REUTERS