The nearly 1,000 troops of the United States that have yet to retreat from northern Syria are all stationed in western Iraq to assist in the fight against the Islamic State (IS). That says the American defense minister Mark Esper on Sunday morning (Dutch time).
The withdrawal from Syria does not take days but weeks, Esper said. "The current plan is to reposition those troops in Iraq". These forces must help defend Iraq against IS and carry out a mission against IS.
These plans can still change between now and when the withdrawal is complete, Esper added. If the plan goes ahead, these soldiers will join the 5,000 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 the deal for a ceasefire that the US concluded with Turkey over the Turkish raid on the border with Syria. Turkey started an offensive in northern Syria after US President Trump decided to remove troops from that area.
Turkey is fighting in this area against the Kurdish YPG, the militia that leads the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). These Kurds are seen by Erdogan as an extension of the PKK, an organization that sees several countries as a terrorist group.
The Turks only want to stop this offensive when the YPG has withdrawn. According to US Vice President Mike Pence, the Kurds have already agreed to leave from northeastern Syria. The agreed ceasefire must give 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 'break in operation'
The Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu does not speak of a ceasefire, but of a temporary break in the Turkish military operation. 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 set up 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". Several million Syrian refugees currently being taken care of in Turkey must eventually go 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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