Tuesday, November 19, 2019 | ePaper

Trump says ‘small’ number of US troops remain in Syria

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US President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Monday in Washington.

AFP, Washington :
President Donald Trump said Monday that a "small" number of U.S. troops will remain in Syria amid blistering criticism from lawmakers in both parties who have denounced his previous decision to withdraw American forces.
"I'm trying to get out of wars. We may have to get in wars, too," Trump said during in a rambling, 70-minute Cabinet meeting on Monday.
Trump's remarks came after residents of a Kurdish city in Syria hurled potatoes and insults at departing U.S. troops on Monday, the latest sign of the Kurds' bitter sense of betrayal after Trump seemed to pave the way for a deadly Turkish assaultthat began nearly two weeks ago.
The scene was captured in a video posted by a Kurdish news agency and showed a convoy of American armored vehicles driving through the northeastern city of Qamishli.
"Like rats, America is running away," one man shouted in Arabic, according to the Associated Press. Another shouted obscenities and said babies in Kurdish-held areas had died in the Turkish offensive.
Monday's incident occurred just days after the U.S. brokered a temporary cease-fire between the Turkish forces and the Kurdish fighters, who were America's chief ally in the fight against the Islamic State. Under that deal, the Kurds are supposed to withdraw from a "safe zone" on the Syrian side of the Turkey-Syria border, ceding territory they had gained during the battle against ISIS
President Donald Trump said Monday that a small number of US troops remain in Syria, even if the controversial withdrawal of soldiers from a key Kurdish area bordering Turkey is proceeding "nicely."
Trump's statement at a cabinet meeting in the White House contradicted his repeated insistence that he wants all US soldiers out of Syria, adding to an already confused situation.
Trump said the contingents were near Israel and Jordan - at their request - and also guarding oil fields.
The deployment to control the oil is "in a little different section" to where the pullout from the Kurdish area is taking place, he said, without further providing detail.
"The other region where we've been asked by Israel and Jordan to leave a small number of troops is a totally different section of Syria," he said.  "That's a totally different section, that's a totally different mindset."
He defended the accelerating departure of a key US force from the traditionally Kurdish area, leaving one of America's staunchest allies in the fight against Islamic State group militants to face invading Turkish forces.
"They're moving out very nicely," he said of the US troops.
Trump denied that the soldiers were pulling out in a hurry - even if they have had to abandon bases almost overnight - and said they were moving "intelligently."
"So far there hasn't been one drop of blood shed during this whole period by an American soldier. Nobody was killed, nobody cut their finger, nothing," Trump said.
Some of Trump's closest allies in Washington have joined a chorus of outrage at what they see as a betrayal of the Kurds, whose guerrilla units did much of the ground fighting against Islamic State group in Syria, while being supported by US heavy firepower.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said earlier in Kabul that the US withdrawal would take "weeks not days."
"We have troops in towns in northeast Syria that are located next to the oil fields. The troops in those towns are not in the present phase of withdrawal," Esper said.

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