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US military now preparing to leave as many as 1,000 troops in Syria: Report

President Donald Trump ordered complete US withdrawal in December; in February he said 200 would remain
US-backed Kurdish fighters may receive more US support than previously announced (AFP)

The US military is now making plans to keep almost 1,000 troops in Syria, officials said, a shift that comes three months after President Donald Trump ordered a complete withdrawal, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing unidentified US officials.

Talks with Turkey, European allies and US-backed Kurdish fighters have so far failed to secure an agreement to create a safe zone in northeastern Syria, part of Trump’s plan for leaving Syria, the Journal said.

The US now plans to keep working with Kurdish fighters in Syria despite Turkish threats to cross the border and attack the Kurds, the US officials said. The proposal may keep as many as 1,000 American forces, spread from the north of Syria to the south, they said.

Once the last bastion of the Islamic State (IS) group is seized, the US may shift its focus towards withdrawing hundreds of American forces, in keeping with what Trump had originally ordered.

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The evolving discussions represent a shift away from Trump’s December directive to get all Americans out of Syria.

His original decision to withdraw all of the more-than-2,000 US troops from Syria triggered the resignation of Pentagon chief Jim Mattis and drew widespread concern that America was leaving the fight against IS before it was finished.

Trump initially stood by his decision, but members of his national-security team urged him to secure assurances that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wouldn’t attack the US-backed Kurdish fighters once America withdrew, the WSJ said. Turkey has refused to do so.

MEE reported in February that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the fight against IS was not over, seemingly diverging from Trump’s assertion in December that the group had been completely defeated.

In February, faced with pressure from all sides, Trump scrapped his original withdrawal order and decided to keep about 200 US troops in Syria.

Trump had been under pressure from multiple advisers to adjust his policy to ensure the protection of the Kurdish forces who supported the fight against IS and were threatened by Turkey, as well as to serve as a bulwark against Iran's influence.

The February decision to leave 200 troops was announced after Trump spoke by phone with Erdogan. A White House statement at the time said the two leaders agreed, regarding Syria, to "continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone". That safe zone has still not materialised.

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