Washington, March 18 (IANS) A top US general has refuted a media report that the American military was developing plans to keep up to 1,000 troops in Syria, calling it “factually incorrect”.
“There has been no change to the plan announced in February and we continue to implement the President’s direction to draw down US forces to a residual presence,” Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement on Sunday.
The Wall Street Journal report on Sunday, citing US officials, said that the US planned to continue working with Kurdish fighters in Syria who face threats from Turkey.
The report said the plans came as talks between the US, Turkey, European allies and the Kurds failed to establish a safe zone in Syria.
A US official told CNN on Sunday that some planning numbers have exceeded 400 for the total number of US forces to stay in Syria, but no final decisions had been made and various figures were potentials at this point.
The plan was to have a combined force of about 1,500 troops overall to ensure the safe zone in northern Syria.
Dunford, in his statement, confirmed that the US and Turkey have conducted detailed military planning and agreed to an “initial concept” regarding some type of security arrangement along the Syrian-Turkish border.
“We continue to conduct detailed military planning with the Turkish General Staff to address Turkish security concerns along the Turkey-Syria border. Planning to date has been productive and we have an initial concept that will be refined in the coming days.
“We are also conducting planning with other members of the Coalition who have indicated an intent to support the transition phase of operations into Syria,” he said.
Sunday’s development comes after Trump’s order in December for a “rapid” withdrawal of the US military from Syria.
Shortly after Trump’s decision, Defence Secretary James Mattis announced his intention to resign, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress in January that the Islamic State still maintained a presence in Syria despite Trump’s claim the militant group had already been defeated.
The White House said last month that a “small peace keeping group of about 200” would remain in Syria, but Defence Department officials have cautioned that the number was too definitive for this stabilisation mission.
For the time being, the number of US forces in northern Syria near the Turkish border and in the southern part at a base in Al-Tanf have not changed substantially.
Sources have told CNN the US military has continued to develop draw down options for both Syria and Afghanistan depending on what the President may order in the future.