The nearly one thousand American troops that still have to retreat from northern Syria are stationed in Western Iraq to help in the fight against IS, says US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Sunday morning.
The withdrawal from Syria does not take days but weeks, says Esper. "The current plan is to reposition those troops in Iraq." These troops must help defend Iraq and carry out a mission against IS.
The plan can still be changed in the meantime, Esper adds. If the current plan goes ahead, these soldiers will join the five thousand US troops already stationed in Iraq. There they train the Iraqi armed forces and help reduce IS fighters.
The announcement comes a few days after a deal the US had concluded with Turkey. Among other things, the countries agreed on a ceasefire in Northeast Syria. Turkey started an offensive in the border area after US President Donald Trump decided to remove US troops from that area.
Turkey is fighting there against the Kurdish YPG, the militia that leads the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Erdogan sees these Kurds as an extension of the PKK, an organization that is regarded by several countries as a terrorist group.
The Turks only want to stop this offensive once the YPG has withdrawn. According to US Vice President Mike Pence, the Kurds have already agreed to leave Northeast Syria. The agreed ceasefire must offer the Kurds the space to actually withdraw from the area.
See also: These are the key players in the Turkish invasion of northern Syria
Turkey speaks of 'a break'
The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu does not speak of a ceasefire, but of a break. He emphasizes that Ankara may manage a "safe zone" in the border area. Pence believes that this zone is in the long-term interest of both parties.
Turkey wants to create a strip of 225 kilometers long and 32 kilometers wide along the Turkish-Syrian border. This strip must act as a "buffer zone against terrorism". According to Ankara, several million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey must eventually be moved to this buffer zone.
The United States and Turkey have also agreed that the YPG must hand in all heavy weapons and that all their posts will be dismantled. Esper announced on Sunday that the US is still in contact with the YPG.
420Where does the struggle between Kurds and Turks come from?
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