Turkish media says the US Army troops have abandoned a base in north-eastern Syria, in the first reported case of the Donald Trump-announced general pullout going ahead.
Some 50 US soldiers left in Hummer armored vehicles and military trucks, leaving behind an empty 400-square-meter warehouse in the Al-Hasakah Governorate, the Anadolu news agency said Saturday. The troops went to the neighboring Iraq, the report said, adding that previously the warehouse was used for supplying weapons and equipment to Kurdish YPG militias.
US President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw troops from Syria on December 19, which he said were no longer needed there after the “defeat” of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists. At the time there were about 2,000 American troops spread throughout Kurdish-controlled parts of northeastern Syria. According to varying US statements, the withdrawal is to take between two and three months.
The pull-out came amid a period of tension between America’s Kurdish allies and its NATO partner Turkey. Ankara considers all Kurdish militias terrorists and was complaining about their presence near its border, a situation that the US would not change to Turkey’s liking. President Tayyip Erdogan threatened to start another military operation against the Kurds, unless something is done.
The withdrawal of American troops would leave the Kurdish fighters more exposed to a Turkish offensive. This week the Kurds called on Damascus to send the government troops to Manbij, a strategically located city in northern Syria, saying that the Syrian Army could provide security in the city while the Kurdish militias are relocated elsewhere. The presence of YPG in the Manbij area is a major irritant for Ankara.
The Syrian government has agreed and said their troops were already in Manbij area, but the claim is yet to be confirmed on the ground. Turkey meanwhile remains prepared to a major offensive in Syria, with dozens of tanks waiting at its southern border.