Trump says US will keep hundreds of troops in Syria

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan center and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford right talk to the press before the arrival of Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Friday Feb. 22 2019 at the Pentagon in Washington. (AP Pho

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan center and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford right talk to the press before the arrival of Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Friday Feb. 22 2019 at the Pentagon in Washington. (AP Pho

His remarks came after a U.S. senior administration official's statement on Friday that Washington would leave about 400 U.S. troops split between two Syrian regions, a reversal by U.S. President Donald Trump that could pave the way for U.S. allies to keep troops in Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of this declaration from the White House, Paris and London both refuted Trump's claim that "we have won against ISIS" (another name for the Islamic State group), with French Defence Minister Florence Parly insisting that the "Islamic State [another name for the Islamic State group] has not been wiped from the map", while the UK Foreign Office asserted that "much remains to be done and we must not lose sight of the threat [IS] pose".

The Donald Trump administration's decision to keep a residual force in Syria has temporarily reassured America's Kurdish allies, who have publicly floated the possibility of looking to Bashar al-Assad for protection.

A senior USA defense official, using an acronym for Islamic State, told VOA that the troops would remain in Syria to help "enable local forces to keep ISIS from resurging".

Trump said Friday, "We have had tremendous success in defeating the caliphate". "Whether it's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops or whoever it might be, so that (Islamic State) doesn't start up again".

FILE - Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is pictured on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 7, 2019.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham issued a statement applauding Trump's decision to keep a small contingent of US troops in Syria as part of an global stabilizing force, saying the president had followed sound military advice that would help avoid the problems the United States faced in Iraq. Yet the US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces still face an uncertain future as they prepare to eject IS from its last holdout in eastern Syria.

That is while the antagonism of President Bashar al-Assad's resurgent regime towards the presence of Western troops in Syria is another factor disincentivising the two European countries from sending more soldiers to the country, Theron argued: "France and the United Kingdom barely have the strategic opportunity to replace the U.S. in a country where the regime does not want them".

Graham had vehemently opposed the commander in chief's initial plan to engage in a total pullout, reportedly calling it "the dumbest fucking idea I've ever heard".

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European leaders have said they will be reluctant to fill the security gap when USA forces leave.

He was persuaded on Thursday that about 200 USA troops should join what is expected to be a total commitment of some 800 to 1,500 troops from European allies to set up a safe zone in northeastern Syria, a US administration official said.

"Now the burden falls on Europe. we're flipping the responsibilities", the senator said, predicting that European troops would now be tasked with the fight.

FILE - A convoy of US troops moves along a road with local allied fighters, in Manbij, northern Syria, March 31, 2018. He told reporters Friday he is confident they will step up and commit troops.

"The transition that we are working towards is stabilization, and to enhance the security capability of local security forces", Shanahan said.

The 400 American troops will be part of a total force of 800-1,500 Western soldiers in Syria, with the rest provided by US' European allies, Reuters reports.

Turkey says the Syrian troops are allied with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been fighting for greater Kurdish autonomy inside Turkey.

Turkey considers the Kurdish group terrorists, allied with Kurdish militants in that country, and has said it would attack them as soon as the Americans left.

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