U.S. VP Mike Pence reassures Kurds during surprise Iraq visit

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during an unannounced visit to Iraq on Saturday attempted to reassure the country’s Kurds of Washington's support despite Donald Trump’s abrupt decision last month to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria.

Pence, during a meeting with Nechirvan Barzani, the president of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, reminded the Kurdish leader of the "strong bonds forged in the fires of war between the people of the United States and the Kurdish people across this region," Deutsche Welle reported.

The move by Washington last month to withdraw its soldiers from near the Turkish border, effectively gave Ankara a green light to launch a long-planned incursion in northeast Syria targeting U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.

Turkey sees the Kurdish forces, which have spearheaded the U.S.-led war on the Islamic State (ISIS) , as an existential threat due to their links to outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (KKK), an armed group that has been at war in Turkey for over 30 years. 

Barzani thanked Pence for the U.S. military's backing in the fight against ISIS, adding that that Pence’s visit was an important indication of Washington’s continued support to Kurdistan and Iraq.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the region has sparked criticism that Washington had betrayed its Kurdish allies, prompting them to seek support from Russia and Damascus.

Washington later said that hundreds of soldiers would remain in the east of the war-torn country to secure the oilfields.

The U.S. Central Command chief General Kenneth McKenzie on Saturday said around 500 U.S. personnel along with Kurdish forces in east Syria are expected to resume operations against ISIS in coming days and weeks.