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ReutersTrump gives no timetable for Syria exit; wants to protect Kurds

US president continues to back off from initial order for rapid exit, says he wants to protect Kurdish fighters

Marines with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, fire mortars from an undisclosed location in Syria [File/Handout/Marine Corps/Gabino Perez/AP Photo]

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States would get out of Syria “over a period of time” and wants to protect the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in the country as Washington draws down troops. 


US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States would get out of Syria “over a period of time” and wants to protect the US-backed Kurdish fighters in the country as Washington draws down troops.

Trump did not provide a timetable for the planned military exit from Syria, which he unexpectedly announced last month against the advice of top national security aides and without consulting politicians or US allies participating in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

Defense Secretary James Mattis unexpectedly resigned after the announcement, and Brett McGurk, the US’s top envoy in the fight against ISIL, announced he would be leaving his post earlier than expected due to the decision.

During a Cabinet meeting at the White House in front of reporters on Wednesday, Trump said he had never discussed a reported four-month timetable for the withdrawal of 2,000 American troops stationed in Syria.

In recent days, Trump appeared to back off from the rapid pull-out he initially ordered and stressed that the operation would be slow.

“We’re slowly sending our troops back home to be with their families, while at the same time fighting Isis [Islamic State] remnants,” Trump said on Twitter on Monday.

Protecting Kurdish forces

Critics of Trump’s decision for the withdrawal not only warn of a resurgence of ISIL, but worry that the withdrawal is a betrayal of US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria and leaves them vulnerable to an attack from Turkish forces. Turkey considers the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which now controls nearly 30 percent of Syria, a terrorist group linked to fighting within its own borders. READ MORE

US commanders propose Kurdish fighters in Syria keep weapons

Critics also contend the US withdrawal would embolden Iran and Russia, which have supported the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he came out of a lunch with Trump feeling reassured about the Syria policy.

Graham told reporters that Trump was committed to making sure Turkey did not clash with the Kurdish YPG forces once US troops leave Syria, and was assuring the NATO ally that it would have a buffer zone in the region to help protect its own interests.

US commanders planning the US withdrawal are recommending that YPG fighters battling ISIL be allowed to keep US-supplied weapons, according to US officials.

That proposal would likely anger Turkey, where Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, is expected to hold talks this week.

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