Defense Sec. Mark Esper: U.S. troops leaving Syria will go to Iraq

“The quickest way to get them out of danger was to get them into Iraq,” Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told Fox News Sunday.
By Rachel Wolf – The Jerusalem Post
Despite US President Donald Trump’s talk of bringing US troops home from “endless wars” in the Middle East, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper says the troops in Syria are not returning to the US, but will be instead sent to Iraq.
When discussing the US withdrawal from northeastern Syria, Esper emphasized that the US is aiming to be “very deliberate” and it is not rushing, saying “we’re talking weeks, not days.”

“The current game plan is for those forces to re-position into western Iraq,” Esper said, adding that this is the current plan and that things could change between now and when the US finishes its withdrawal from Syria.

Esper says that 1,000 US troops will be attempting to accomplish two missions while in Iraq, first to “help defend Iraq” and second “to preform a counter-ISIS mission.”

“The quickest way to get them out of danger was to get them into Iraq,” Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told Fox News Sunday.

Trump first announced his plan to pull US troops out of Syria in early October and Turkey’s military operation in northeastern Syria began  days later.

On Thursday, during talks with  U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, President Tayyip Erdogan agreed to a five-day pause in military operations that would allow Kurdish fighters to withdraw from what Turkey is calling the “safe zone,” near the Turkish-Syrian border.

On Sunday Trump tweeted “The ceasefire is holding up very nicely. There are some minor skirmishes that have ended quickly,” quoting Esper.
Earlier that day, Turkey’s Ministry of National Defence claimed that one Turkish soldier was killed and another was wounded during a Kurdish attack on Tel Abyad, Syria.

The Kurdish militia claimed that Turkey broke the ceasefire on Friday by shelling civilian areas near Ras al Ain, but Turkish officials denied this on Saturday.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement on Sunday regarding the US agreement with Turkey, saying it “seriously undermines the credibility of America’s foreign policy and sends a dangerous message to our allies and adversaries alike that our word cannot be trusted.” They also called the agreement a “sham,” adding that “President Erdogan has given up nothing, and President Trump has given him everything.”

However, not everyone in Washington is as skeptical of Trump’s Syria policy. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has previously been critical of Trump’s decision to remove US troops from Syria, told Fox News on Sunday that he is “increasingly optimistic that we can have some historic solutions in Syria.”

Reuters contributed to this report.


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