American troops pulling out of Syria are set to go to Iraq, the Pentagon has confirmed. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said “The US withdrawal continues apace from northeastern Syria... we’re talking weeks not days.”
While traveling to the Middle East, Esper told reporters “The current game plan is for those forces to re-position into western Iraq,” which means about 1,000 soldiers are set to be re-deployed to America's more secure bases in the neighboring country.
Despite President Trump in the past weeks on multiple occasions arguing that it's “time to bring our soldiers back home” – the new reality is that they'll simply jump from one war zone to another, given Esper specifically cited the continuing 'anti-ISIL' mission in Iraq.
The defense secretary invoked the two missions of—
“One is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-ISIS mission as we sort through the next steps,” he said. “Things could change between now and whenever we complete the withdrawal, but that’s the game plan right now.”
Ironically "defend Iraq" means in part continued close cooperation with the country's Iran-backed popular mobilization forces at a time with America's presence there is unpopular as ever.
A series of covert Israeli airstrikes on pro-Iran militia bases in Iraq over the past months has resulted in demands out of Iraq's parliament for US forces to make a final swift exit.
Last Thursday's ceasefire deal struck between Pence and Erdogan in Ankara is providing cover for Trump to finally pullout of Syria, amid a Turkish military incursion - temporarily on "pause" due to the fragile truce - targeting the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The between 700 and 1,000 US forces exiting Syria toward bases in western Iraq will bolster the already more than 5,000 American forces stationed in Iraq.
Pentagon officials have indicated it's expected to take "a couple of weeks" to fully withdraw from Syria, which in some cases has required the US abandoning overnight its fully operational bases in places like Manbij and other border towns near the Syria-Turkey border.