The U.S.’s main ally in the fight against Islamic State welcomed President Donald Trump’s decision to leave U.S. troops in Syria, a change in American plans that the Syrian Kurds have lobbied for ever since the withdrawal announcement, Wall Street Journal reported.
Washington said the U.S. will maintain a small peacekeeping force of about 200 troops in Syria, a partial reversal of an earlier decision by Trump to remove all American troops. The hastily announced withdrawal in December was criticized by members of his own administration, U.S. lawmakers and many of its coalition partners on concerns that it could allow Islamic State to regroup and weaken efforts to counter Iran in the region.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces repeatedly urged the U.S. to reconsider that decision, in part because it would leave them unprotected against Turkish plans to create a buffer zone in northern Syria. Ankara sees the Kurdish YPG militia – the main component of the SDF – as a threat to its country.
The White House decision “could encourage other countries to stay in this area to preserve the stability and preserve peace and security and to stop the Turkish threats on this area,” Abdulkarim Omar, a political leader affiliated with the SDF, said Friday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that Moscow was monitoring Washington’s shifting position in Syria. “We are watching with great interest and attention the evolution of the U.S.’s stance on this issue and are analyzing these statements,” Peskov said.
At his annual press conference in December, President Vladimir Putin cast doubt over whether the U.S. was serious about withdrawing its troops from Syria. Putin said the presence of U.S. troops in Syria was illegitimate as it hadn’t been approved by the United Nations. Moscow’s intervention into the Syrian war in 2015 at the request of President Bashar al-Assad extended a political lifeline to the Syrian leader and provided him with critical military support that allowed him to defeat the opposition, the Journal added.
It remains unclear where the remaining U.S. troops will be based, or for how long. The White House said the U.S. troops would remain in Syria “for a period of time” but gave no details. The Pentagon on Thursday night said it had received no new direction. Officials have previously hinted at the possibility of leaving a small contingent of American troops at al-Tanf, a southern Syrian base near the borders of Iraq and Jordan.
The SDF, backed by coalition airstrikes, have resumed their push to take the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria, where some 300 Islamic State fighters are holed up in a last stand. The SDF offensive to capture the village began two weeks ago but was paused last weekend during negotiations with Islamic State over a possible surrender deal, according to Syrian monitoring groups. Hundreds of civilians reportedly held hostage by the militants were released earlier this week, according to the monitoring groups.