US Central Command chief General Kenneth McKenzie said on Saturday that around 500 US personnel in eastern Syria are expected to resume operations against the Islamic State (IS) in coming days and weeks.
“Now I’ve got about 500 US personnel generally east of the Euphrates river east of Deir Ezzor up to Hasakah, northeast all the way up into extreme northeast Syria,” McKenzie told reporters on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue security summit in Bahrain.
“It is our intention to remain in that position working with our SDF partners to continue operations against ISIS down the Euphrates river valley where those targets present themselves,” he added.
President Donald Trump announced in October that the United States was pulling out its troops from Syria, angering allies for what they called a betrayal to US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has played a major role in defeating IS in the country.
Trump’s administration later said it would keep a residual force in northeastern Syria to protect oilfields in the area and prevent IS from regaining its strength and staging a comeback.
Last month, US forces killed IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a raid in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. The militant group has lost almost all its territory in Syria and Iraq but is still seen as a threat.
Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria effectively allowed Turkey to start a military operation against the SDF, which it views as a terrorist group with links to Kurdish militants on Turkish soil, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
While announcing Baghdadi’s death, Trump said that the US was not interested in keeping its forces as a buffer between Syria and Turkey but suggested that it may keep the oil in eastern Syria for itself.
“But we are leaving soldiers to secure the oil. Now, we may have to fight for the oil. That’s okay. Maybe somebody else wants the oil, in which case they have a hell of a fight.”
Meanwhile, Moscow said earlier this week that it was also in the process of deploying more Russian military police to northeast Syria, setting up field hospitals for civilians, distributing humanitarian aid and rebuilding infrastructure. (Source: MEE)