US troops from northern Syria to be moved to Iraq: Defence Secretary
ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT: US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said that all of the nearly 1,000 troops withdrawing from northern Syria are expected to move to western Iraq to continue the campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants and "to help defend Iraq".
On Thursday, Turkey agreed in talks with US Vice-President Mike Pence to a five-day pause in an offensive into north-eastern Syria to allow time for the Kurdish fighters to withdraw from a "safe zone", which Ankara aims to establish near the Turkish border with Syria.
"The US withdrawal continues apace from north-eastern Syria... we are talking weeks not days," Mr Esper told reporters en route to the Middle East, adding that it was being carried out through aircraft and ground convoys.
"The current game plan is for those forces to reposition into western Iraq," Mr Esper said, adding that they would number about 1,000.
He said the mission for those troops would be to "help defend Iraq" and carry out a counter-ISIS mission.
A senior US defence official clarified that the situation was still fluid and plans could change.
Any decision to send additional US troops to Iraq is likely to be heavily scrutinised in a country where Iran has been steadily amassing influence.
"That is the current game plan, things can change between now and whenever we complete the withdrawal but that is the game plan right now," the senior official added.
It is unclear whether the US troops will use Iraq as a base to launch ground raids into Syria and carry out airstrikes against ISIS. - REUTERS