A naval group headed by the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge is headed to Syria, according to a report by the WSJ.
The anonymous defense officials cited by the outlet claimed that “scores of ground troops are headed toward Syria to help move troops out, and a group of naval vessels headed by the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge is headed to the region to back up troops at the vulnerable moment they are leaving the country.”
Most notably, “with their arrival, there now are more troops in the vicinity than before President Trump said in December that the US would be leaving Syria, having defeated Islamic State.”
According to the report, the US is still moving ahead with its plans to withdraw from Syria. However, a US-Turkey rift may delay the pullout.
“White House national security adviser John Bolton said this week that the U.S. wouldn’t leave Syria until Turkey promised not to target the U.S.’s Kurdish partners, provoking a furor during his visit to Ankara and throwing the withdrawal plan into turmoil.”
Initially, US officials claimed that preparations were being made to withdraw all US troops from Syria in a matter of weeks. Trump entrusted the fight against the few remaining ISIS pockets to Turkey, as agreed in a phone call between him and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on December 14th.
“Now, Mr. Trump’s administration is characterizing the timeline as open-ended-a move designed to give U.S. officials time to work out an agreement with Turkey and the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria, whom Mr. Erdogan views as terrorists who pose a threat to Turkey.”
The withdrawal appears to now have become condition-based and not really as prompt and immediate as initially suggested.
On January 10th, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rebuffed suggestions of a change in the U.S. withdrawal plans, saying there was “No contradiction whatsoever” in the administration’s Syria strategy.
Furthermore, reports claimed that White House National Security Adviser John Bolton provided Turkey with a list of demands, most important to guarantee the security of the Kurdish militias in northeastern Syria.
According to the WSJ, the Turkish leader called Bolton’s demands a “serious mistake”. He stressed that Turkey will not compromise on the Syrian Kurds.