White House says 200 US troops to stay in Syria

The White House has said it will keep some troops in Syria as a peacekeeping force after most US forces pull out from the country. The move could be an attempt to get European allies to send soldiers to Syria as well.

Washington said on Thursday that it planned to leave some US forces behind in Syria, even after the bulk of American troops left the country.

Politics | 13.01.2019

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said a relatively small number of troops would remain in Syria, as US President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.

"A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time," Sanders said in a brief statement.

The decision came after a phone conversation between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Sanders said the men had agreed to "continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone" in Syria.

Division in administration

Trump stunned the world in December when, without speaking to senior aides or allies in the fight against "Islamic State" (IS), he announced that US forces would withdraw from Syria.

That decision — to withdraw some 2,000 US troops by April 30 — was also reached after a telephone conversation with Erdogan.

It prompted strong criticism from lawmakers within Trump's own Republican Party and led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Read more: Donald Trump's motives for Syria withdrawal remain murky

Critics say that a sudden withdrawal could lead to several undesired consequences, including a Turkish attack on US-backed Kurdish forces and the resurgence of IS.

European boots on the ground?

Leaving a small number of troops for "peacekeeping" could pave the way for European NATO allies to commit troops to the establishment of a potential safe zone in Syria's northeast.

Kobane awaits Turkey’s next move in northern Syria

PKK graffiti in Kobane

Turkey sees no difference between the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria and the PKK organization in Turkey. The PKK is also considered a terrorist organization by the US and the EU, however, the western allies have supported SDF in their fight against the "Islamic State" (IS) group.

Kobane awaits Turkey’s next move in northern Syria

Taking a stand

Adla Bakir, head of the Kongra Star organization, an umbrella for women’s groups in Rojava, recalls how she gave an oath to serve the people in the opening stages of the Kurdish revolution in 2011. The revolution’s emphasis on gender rights has empowered women to become fighters, politicians and activists.

Kobane awaits Turkey’s next move in northern Syria

Protecting their neighborhood

Elderly women from the Society Protection Units set up nightly roadblocks in Kobane. The force is led by male and female volunteers, and is independent of the official police and armed forces. The volunteers are drawn from across all communes in the city, with the aim to swiftly mobilize forces in the event of an attack, and to prevent a repeat of the 2015 civilian massacre by IS.

Kobane awaits Turkey’s next move in northern Syria

A welcome diversion

A Kurdish fighter serving with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Kobane enjoys some time with his son. He, like many other soldiers, is deployed in close proximity to his home and family. The Turkish border is a few hundred meters away.

Kobane awaits Turkey’s next move in northern Syria

A grim reminder

The funeral of a Kurdish SDF fighter in Kobane. He was killed while fighting against IS forces in Deir Ezzor province in November. Despite US President Donald Trump's claim that IS has been defeated, the battle along the Euphrates river is far from over.

Kobane awaits Turkey’s next move in northern Syria

Remembering the dead

Martyrs’ Center in Kobane. Following years of clandestine work, the center was able to open publicly following the revolution in 2011. It functions as a social hub, supporting the families of those killed by Turkish, Syrian or IS forces.

Kobane awaits Turkey’s next move in northern Syria

A brief respite

Soldiers from the SDF at a military base in Deir Ezzor province. Posters of the Kurdish ideological leader, Abdullah Öcalan and other prominent figures, adorn the walls. Following threats of an invasion by Turkey, some forces were redeployed from the fight against IS to the 500-kilometer (310 miles) long Turkish border.

Kobane awaits Turkey’s next move in northern Syria

A glimmer of hope?

Men at a Kebab shop in Kobane cautiously welcome the news that US forces will stay in Syria for the time being. The comments by US National Security Adviser John Bolton appeared to put the brakes on a withdrawal abruptly announced by Donald Trump last month and initially expected to be completed within weeks.

Kobane awaits Turkey’s next move in northern Syria

Protests gather pace

Demonstrators in Kobane, made up mostly of school children, protest against the Turkish shelling of Kurdish villages in November.

Kobane awaits Turkey’s next move in northern Syria

Taking a break

Youths in Kobane make their way back from the funeral of a Kurdish fighter. Kurdish residents fear that another military onslaught is imminent.

US acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan met a small group of defense ministers at last week's Munich Security Conference.

It's believed he attempted to convince them to station troops in Syria after a US withdrawal.

Read more: Syria conflict: What do the US, Russia, Turkey and Iran want?

European allies have so far balked at providing troops for peacekeeping in former IS areas unless Washington gives them full assurance that it remains committed to the region.

rc/sms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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