US withdraws troops from Syria
Published : Wednesday, 19 December, 2018 at 10:59 PM Count : 644
The United States has started withdrawing its troops from Syria, the White House said on Wednesday.
The Trump administration said the US stood ready with its allies "to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary".
Some 2,000 troops have helped rid much of north-eastern Syria of IS, but pockets of fighters remain, BBC reports.
It had been thought defence officials wanted to maintain a US presence.
Just a few days ago, Brett McGurk, Mr Trump's special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat IS, said: "Nobody is saying that [IS fighters] are going to disappear. Nobody is that naive. So we want to stay on the ground and make sure that stability can be maintained in these areas".
But President Trump promised earlier this year that US troops would leave Syria "very soon".
The confirmation of the withdrawal comes after Turkey said it was preparing to launch an operation against a US-backed Kurdish militia in northern Syria, something that risks confrontation with the US.
VOA adds: White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement: "We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign."
Sanders said the defeat of IS does not mean the military campaign by coalition forces is ending.
"The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders," Sanders said.
Department of Defense spokesman Col. Rob Manning told VOA, "At this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region."
A withdrawal of the troops would mark a sudden reversal in U.S. military strategy in the region. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior U.S. officials have been advocating for a longer-term military presence in Syria to help ensureIS cannot reemerge as a force in the Middle East. The U.S. has about 2,000 troops in Syria, many of whom work closely with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Reuters quoted a U.S. official as sayingthe State Department is evacuating all personnel from Syria over the next 24 hours and that the time frame for the troop withdrawal is 60 to 100 days.