The Pentagon is planning to cut its combat force in northeastern Syria in half by early May, or to about 1,000 troops, and then pause the entire withdrawal process, the New York Times reported on March 29, citing U.S. officials.
Last December, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the complete withdrawal of his country’s forces from Syria. However, a backlash from the mainstream media and senior officials within his administration forced him to make a U-turn and agree to keep 400 troops in the war-torn country. This number has apparently increased now.
According to the New York Times’ sources, the U.S. Army will assess conditions on the ground and reduce the number of forces every six months or so, until it reaches the 400 troops in Syria.
Half of these forces will be a part of a multinational force that would establish a safe zone in northeastern Syria. The other half will be deployed in the area of al-Tanaf in the southeastern part of the country to block a key highway linking the Iraqi capital of Baghdad with Damascus.
Col. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for the U.S. Army’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined to comment on specific withdrawal plans when he was contacted by the New York Times.
“We continue to implement the president’s direction to draw down U.S. forces to a residual presence in a deliberate and coordinated manner … This work is ongoing and, for operational security reasons, we will not discuss specific U.S. troop numbers or drawdown timelines,” Col. Ryder said in an email to the New York-based outlet.
The U.S. decision to stay in Syria will likely escalate the tension in the country. Turkey is already preparing for a possible military operation in northeastern Syria, while the Damascus government had warned U.S. proxies that it is willing to recapture its territory by force, if necessary.