Trump orders up to 1,000 US troops to withdraw from northern Syria, Latest World News - The New Paper

Trump orders up to 1,000 US troops to withdraw from northern Syria

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130,000 people, including some linked to ISIS, flee as Turkey continues assault in northern Syria

WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said yesterday that US President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of up to 1,000 troops from northern Syria, as the number of people fleeing a Turkish assault soared to 130,000.

"I spoke with the President last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria," Mr Esper told CBS.

He told Fox News the number of troops being pulled back totalled "less than a thousand".

"I can't give a timeline because it changes hourly. We want to make sure that we do so in a very safe, deliberate manner, that we deconflict things as we go with those folks on the ground and immediate area."

Fighting has engulfed the area since last Wednesday when Ankara launched a long-threatened offensive against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who it considers "terrorists" linked to insurgents inside Turkey.

The UN humanitarian agency Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said an exodus sparked by the fighting had grown to 130,000 people and it was preparing for that figure to more than triple, AFP reported.

"We have moved into a planning scenario where up to 400,000 people could be displaced within and across the affected areas," spokesman Jens Laerke said.

US troops near the northern border came under artillery fire from Turkish positions on Friday, the Pentagon said, warning that the US was prepared to meet aggression with "immediate defensive action".

France said yesterday it was "worried" after Kurdish authorities reported that hundreds of relatives of foreign militants had escaped from a displacement camp in northern Syria.

"Of course we are worried about what could happen and that is why we want Turkey... to end as quickly as possible the intervention it has begun," government spokesman Sibeth Ndiaye told France 3 television.

The Kurdish administration in northern Syria said Turkish bombardment near a displaced people's camp had caused nearly 800 relatives of members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group to flee.

In another development, the US is looking into reports that a Kurdish politician and captured Kurdish fighters were killed in north-eastern Syria amid Turkey's offensive, a State Department spokesman told Reuters yesterday, adding Washington found the reports disturbing.

On Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based organisation that reports on the war, said Turkey-backed groups had killed nine civilians, including Mr Hervin Khalaf, secretary general of the Future Syria Party.

"We have seen reports of the killing of (Hervin) Khalaf... as well as several captured SDF fighters, the latter having been apparently shot while in the hands of Turkish-supported armed Syrian opposition elements," a State Department spokesman said, referring to Turkey-backed rebels.


More than 50 civilians have now died on the Syrian side, with Turkish reports putting the number of civilians dead from Kurdish shelling inside Turkey at 18.

Mr Trump's administration has threatened Turkey with economic sanctions over potential targeting of civilians and has warned it not to allow any ISIS militants to escape.