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22 Feb, 2019 18:19

Trump says he'll maintain some troops in Syria, media says 400 ‘peacekeepers’ to stay

Trump says he'll maintain some troops in Syria, media says 400 ‘peacekeepers’ to stay

The US plans to keep a total of 400 troops in Syria, half in the Kurd-held northern part of the country and half at the southeastern border, at Al-Tanf base, a media report says citing an administration official.

Earlier, Washington said it was planning to downsize its military presence in the north of Syria to 200 ‘peacekeepers’, but would not detail plans about the Al-Tanf base, which is located in a strategic part of Syria, where it borders Jordan and Iraq. 

The 400 American troops will be part of a total force of 800-1,500 Western soldiers in Syria, with the rest provided by US’ European allies, Reuters reports.

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Washington claims it's military deployment, which is not mandated by the UN Security Council and is also opposed by the Syrian government, was necessary to fight the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL).

The Al-Tanf base is a constant subject of complaints by Russia, which accused the US military of turning a blind eye on militant groups using the territory under their control to regroup and launch attacks against Syrian government troops.

Moscow also said the Rukban refugee camp, which is located near Al-Tanf, serves as a recruiting ground for jihadists.

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The US appears to be continuing to move the goalpost from the initial promise, made by President Donald Trump, of full withdrawal of ground troops from Syria. Last month he declared IS defeated, but the actual removal of the US troops has been repeatedly postponed. This week the White House said some of its troops will remain in Syria, inaccurately calling them “peacekeepers” – a status reserved for troops acting on a UN mandate.

Trump told reporters on Friday that the move does not constitute a reversal on his promise to fully withdraw from Syria, which he called “sand and death” last December. However, 400 troops is still one fifth of the 2,000 American troops currently serving in Syria.

It is unclear whether Trump was referring to the 200 troops initially slated by the White House to remain behind, or the larger force of 400 mentioned in the latest reports.

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