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The United States Of America Starts Pulling Out Troops From Syria

Ankara is banking on shared regional interests and the personal chemistry of Trump and Erdogan to prevent a new crisis.

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USA, U.S., Syria
A line of US military vehicles drives through a checkpoint of the Internal Security Forces in Manbij as they head to their base on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

The U.S.-led coalition in Syria is beginning to remove troops from Syria.

The coalition “has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,” said Colonel Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S.-coalition fighting the Islamic State group. “Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements.”

Earlier this week, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s calls for the protection of the YPG Syrian Kurdish militia as a pre-condition to a U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, causing the president to refuse to meet with the U.S. official.

The YPG is a crucial ally in Washington’s war against Islamic State but is considered by Ankara as a terrorist group linked to an insurgency inside Turkey.

Syria, U.S.
A former farmer at a primitive refinery makes crude oil into diesel and other products in Rmeilan, Hassakeh province, Syria, April 6, 2018. VOA

Erdogan also warned that preparations were complete for a military operation against the YPG. “We will very soon mobilize to eliminate the terrorist organization in Syria,” he said.“If there are other terrorists who would attempt to intervene in our intervention then it is our duty to eliminate them as well,” Erdogan added. Turkish forces have been massing for weeks along the Syrian border.

Observers said the threat of a Turkish operation against the YPG in northeastern Syria, where around 2,000 U.S. soldiers are deployed, was the reason for U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria. Once Trump announced his intention, Erdogan said Turkey would delay any operation until all U.S. forces left.

Ankara’s anger over preconditions announced by Bolton before any U.S. withdrawal, including security guarantees for the Kurdish militia, may have brought forward the timing of a strike against the YPG.

Last year, the Turkish currency collapsed after Trump hit Ankara with sanctions over the detention in Turkey of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has since been released. Although the sanctions lasted only a few weeks, Turkey’s economy is now facing a recession. The lira fell sharply Tuesday on fears of renewed U.S.-Turkish tensions.

Syria, U.S.
Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria, Nov. 4, 2018. VOA

Turkish media are also reporting of divisions within Turkey’s military over the launching of a military operation into Syria in winter and before the full withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen predicts Erdogan will now look to Trump to resolve the current tensions. “We have to wait to see what Mr. Erdogan has to say with Mr. Trump,” said Selcen, “because he (Erdogan) himself managed to persuade Mr. Trump that the United States will be leaving Syria. We have to wait to see what Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Trump have to say in the coming weeks.”

Also Read: U.S’s SDF Arrests Five IS Agents, Five More Deported From Syria

Turkish media are already blaming Bolton for the latest tensions, accusing him of going “rogue.” Washington is also facing criticism in Turkey for sending conflicting messages on its Syria policy.

Analysts, however, suggest Ankara is banking on shared regional interests and the personal chemistry of Trump and Erdogan to prevent a new crisis. (VOA)

Next Story

Here’s Everything you Need to Know About the Increasing Islamic State Terror Activity in Syria

Surge of IS Violence and Terrorism Seen in Syria

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Smoke Syria
Smoke rises while people gather at a damaged site after two bomb blasts claimed by Islamic State hit the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli near the Turkish border, Syria. VOA

By Sirwan Kajjo

Islamic State militants have increased their terror activity in recent weeks in Syria, carrying out deadly attacks against Syrian regime troops and U.S.-backed forces.

Since early December, the terror group has conducted at least three major attacks on Syrian government forces and their allied militias in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, local sources said.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that has reporters across the country, recent attacks claimed by IS against Syrian military forces have killed at least 30 soldiers and wounded more than 50 others.

Last week, at least three fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in what local military officials described as a suicide attack carried out by IS militants in the province of Raqqa, IS’s former de facto capital before it was freed in 2017 by the SDF and its U.S.-led allies.

Islamic State Syria
Islamic State militants clean their weapons in Deir el-Zour city, Syria. VOA

‘Threat to our forces’ 

IS “terrorists still pose a threat to our forces, especially in the eastern part of Syria,” an SDF commander told VOA.

“They have been able to regroup and reorganize in some remote parts of Deir el-Zour, where there is a smaller presence of our forces or any other forces,” said the commander, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to journalists.

He added that despite the declaration of the physical defeat of the terror group in March 2019, IS “still has hundreds of sleeper cells that have the capability to wage deadly attacks on civilians and combatants alike.”

In the town of Tabqa, in western Raqqa, local news reports this week said a suspected IS sleeper cell assaulted a family, killing three of its members, including a child. The reports did not say why the family was attacked, but IS has in the past targeted people whom it suspected of having ties to or working for the government or U.S.-backed local forces.

While most of the recent activity has been in areas IS once controlled as part of its so-called caliphate, the militant group has been particularly active in Syria’s vast desert region.

The Syrian Observatory reported at least 10 IS-claimed attacks in December that originated from the mostly desert eastern part of Homs province in central Syria.

Baghdadi’s death

Islamic State Syria
The Islamic State group’s leader extolled militants in Sri Lanka for “striking the homes of the crusaders in their Easter, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghouz,” a reference to IS’ last bastion in eastern Syria, which was captured by U.S.-backed fighters. VOA

Despite the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in October in a U.S. operation in northwestern Syria, IS still represents a major threat in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, experts say.

“As ISIS returns to its original decentralized structure, members of the group are trying to show ISIS still poses a threat, even after the defeat of its caliphate and the recent death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” said Kaleigh Thomas, a Middle East researcher at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, using another acronym for IS.

Sadradeen Kinno, a Syrian researcher who closely follows Islamist militancy, echoed Thomas’ views.

“IS is now living a period of stability, so to speak. After the death of Baghdadi, their objective is clearer now. They try to stay focused on carrying out assassinations, ambushes and suicide attacks, and they have been successful at that,” he told VOA.

Kinno said IS “really believes in a recurrent cycle of violence, so for them the territorial defeat they experienced this year is just a phase of their ongoing jihad.”

US withdrawal 

U.S. vehicles Syria
A convoy of U.S. vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump in October announced a withdrawal of troops from Syria, which was followed by a Turkish military offensive against U.S.-backed SDF fighters in northeast Syria.

Some experts say the U.S. troop pullout allowed IS to regroup, and thus its terror attacks have increased.

“The U.S. decision sent a signal to [IS] that the U.S. is not interested in a long-term presence in Syria,” said Azad Othman, a Syrian affairs analyst based in Irbil, Iraq.

IS “now feels that its low-level insurgency in Syria could be even more effective as long as the Americans don’t have a significant military presence in the country,” he told VOA.

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency said in a report in November that “ISIS has exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria to reconstitute its capabilities and resources both within Syria in the short term and globally in the longer term.”

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“The withdrawal and redeployment of U.S. troops has also affected the fight against ISIS, which remains a threat in the region and globally,” Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, said in the report.

But the U.S. has decided to keep about 500 troops to secure oil fields in Syria to prevent IS militants and the Syrian regime forces from accessing them. (VOA)