Monday, March 4, 2024

US denies reports of Syria troop withdrawal

The US Department of Defense has dismissed media reports claiming that Washington may withdraw from parts of Syria, calling them “erroneous". Damascus has repeatedly urged Washington to end the occupation of Syria.

Responding to a query from Russia’s RIA Novosti on Wednesday, a Pentagon spokesman denied reports this week by Foreign Policy magazine and Middle East news outlet Al-Monitor.

Foreign Policy claimed on Wednesday that US government officials were having “active internal discussions” regarding how and when to withdraw troops from Syria, while Al-Monitor reported on Monday that the Pentagon had proposed a plan for its Kurdish allies in Syria to partner with the Syrian government in their conflict with the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group.

US officials have repeatedly justified their deployment of about 900 troops in oil-rich areas of northeastern Syria, in violation of Damascus’ sovereignty, as necessary to ensure the “enduring defeat” of IS. US lawmakers voted down a bill last year that called for an end to the illegal US presence, which has dragged on for nearly a decade and outlived Washington’s failed regime-change campaign against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Foreign Policy magazine writer Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, argued that US President Joe Biden’s administration might give a “gift on a golden platter” to the resurgent IS if it pulls troops out of Syria. He added the administration was reconsidering its military priorities in the Middle East as the Israel-Hamas war ratchets up tensions in the region.

The White House National Security Council convened a meeting earlier this month – at the Pentagon’s request – with representatives of the CIA, the US State Department and “other relevant stakeholders” to discuss a plan to encourage the Kurds to collaborate with Damascus against IS, Al-Monitor said. The outlet cited unidentified people familiar with the deliberations and added they had declined to comment on whether the proposal would involve ending the US occupation.

A Pentagon official reportedly told CNN on Tuesday that Washington has “absolutely no intention” of supporting a partnership between its Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) allies and the Syrian government.

Amerin Zaman, the Turkey-based correspondent who authored the Al-Monitor report, responded by insisting that a US interagency policy meeting on the plan was held on January 18. Zaman reported that Turkish officials had input on the US proposal. Washington and Ankara, which are NATO allies, have clashed over US-SDF operations in Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the US of training and arming Kurdish “terrorists” in Syria. After US forces shot down a Turkish drone over Syria in October, he vowed to take “necessary action when the time comes”.

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