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US announces Syria troop withdrawal as Trump says IS group ‘defeated’

Rodi Said / Reuters (file photo) | US troops patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria, November 4, 2018

The White House on Wednesday confirmed US troops were being withdrawn from Syria as President Donald Trump claimed the Islamic State (IS) group had been "defeated" there.

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“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump wrote on Twitter, using another acronym to refer to the IS group.

“We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders confirmed in a statement later on Wednesday.

“These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign,” Sanders added.

Earlier in the day, officials in the Trump administration told US media that they were considering a total withdrawal of US forces from the Middle Eastern country.

CNN quoted a defence official as saying that the planning was for a "full" and "rapid" withdrawal.

The Pentagon declined to comment, saying only that it continued to work with partners in the region.

The decision threatens to upend assumptions about a longer-term US military presence in Syria, which US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior US officials had advocated to help ensure the IS group cannot reemerge.

"We won," Trump said in a video message posted on Twitter later Wednesday. "So our boys, our young women, our men   they're all coming back and they're coming back now."

The US still has about 2,000 troops in Syria, many of them special operations forces working closely with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF.

The partnership with the SDF over the past several years has led to the defeat of the IS group in Syria but outraged NATO ally Turkey, which views Kurdish YPG forces in the alliance as an extension of a militant group fighting inside Turkey.

The deliberations on US troops come as Ankara threatens a new offensive in Syria. To date, US forces in Syria have been seen as a stabilizing factor in the country and have somewhat restrained Turkey’s actions against the SDF.

A complete withdrawal of US troops from Syria would still leave a sizeable US military presence in the region, including about 5,200 troops across the border in Iraq.

Much of the US campaign in Syria has been waged by warplanes flying out of Qatar and other locations in the Middle East.

Mattis and other State Department officials have long fretted about leaving Syria before a peace agreement can be reached to end that country’s brutal civil war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced around half of Syria’s pre-war population of about 22 million.

In April, Mattis said: “We do not want to simply pull out before the diplomats have won the peace. You win the fight and then you win the peace.”

The IS group is widely expected to revert to guerilla tactics once it no longer holds territory.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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