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Feb 15 2019

U.S. army chief recommends arming Syrian Kurds as Trump discusses ISIS “eradication”

U.S. President Donald Trump is within 24 hours of declaring the Islamic State (ISIS) “eradicated,” Iraqi Kurdish news outlet Rudaw reported on Friday.

"We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate and that will be announced over the next 24 hours," Rudaw quoted Trump as saying at the White House on Friday.

Trump justified his surprise announcement via Twitter on December 19 of the “immediate” withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria by saying the United States had “defeated ISIS” in the country, which he called the only reason for keeping a military presence there during his presidency.

U.S. security officials have consistently challenged the president’s view, however. A recent note of caution came just a day before the president talked about the eradication of ISIS, when General Raymond Thomas, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, told the U.S. Senate he would be “hesitant” to use the term “winning” when discussing the fight against ISIS.

"We're on the verge of diminishing the threat and then in the process of determining what the residual capability needs to remain in place in the region to ensure that we are securing that, securing that objective," Rudaw quoted Thomas as saying.

Around 2,000 U.S. troops are deployed in northeast Syria, where they have been fighting ISIS alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with support from other members of the global coalition against the extremist jihadist organisation.

Ankara has said it will take up the fight against ISIS once U.S. forces leave, though it is widely understood that its priority would be to strike forces of the SDF and its ally, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey views as terrorist organisations due to their links to insurgent groups active in Turkey.

The SDF has been continuing the fight against ISIS militants who remain in the last small pocket of territory under the jihadists’ control, though experts have warned of a possible resurgence by the group unless appropriate precautions are taken in the region.

U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, who oversees operations in the Middle East as the head of Central Command, told Reuters on Friday that this could involve continuing to arm and aid the SDF once U.S. forces have left Syria – a move that would be sure to outrage Washington’s Turkish NATO allies.

“As long as they are fighting against ISIS and continue to keep pressure on them, I think it would seem to me to be in our interest to continue to provide the means for them to do that,” Votel said in an interview with Reuters.