Iraq: US Troops Cannot Stay Here 10/22 06:20
U.S. troops leaving Syria and heading to neighboring Iraq do not have
permission to stay in the country, Iraq's military said Tuesday.
BAGHDAD (AP) -- U.S. troops leaving Syria and heading to neighboring Iraq do
not have permission to stay in the country, Iraq's military said Tuesday.
The statement appears to contradict U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who
has said that under the current plan, all U.S. troops leaving Syria will go to
western Iraq and the military would continue to conduct operations against the
Islamic State group to prevent its resurgence in the region.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him to the Middle East, Esper did not
rule out the idea that U.S. forces would conduct counterterrorism missions from
Iraq into Syria. But he said those details will be worked out over time.
His comments were the first to specifically lay out where American troops
will go as they leave Syria and what the counter-IS fight could look like.
Esper said he has spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift the
estimated 1,000 troops leaving Syria into western Iraq.
The statement by the Iraqi military, however, said that all American troops
that withdrew from Syria have permission to enter northern Iraq's
semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and then from there to be relocated out of Iraq.
"These forces do not have any approval to remain in Iraq," it said. The
statement did not specify a time limit for how long the troops can stay there.
President Donald Trump ordered the bulk of U.S. troops in Syria to withdraw
after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear in a phone call that
his forces were about to invade Syria to push back Syrian Kurdish fighters whom
Turkey considers terrorists.
The pullout largely abandons the Syrian Kurdish allies who have fought the
Islamic State group alongside U.S. troops for several years. Between 200 and
300 U.S. troops will remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops continued to pull out of northern Syria after
Turkey's invasion into the border region. Reports of sporadic clashes have
continued between Turkish-backed fighters and the U.S.-allied Syria Kurdish
forces despite a five-day cease-fire agreement hammered out on Thursday between
U.S. and Turkish leaders. The cease-fire expires Tuesday night.
Esper has said the troops going into Iraq will have two missions.
"One is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-ISIS mission as
we sort through the next steps," he said, using an alternative acronym for the
Islamic State group. "Things could change between now and whenever we complete
the withdrawal, but that's the game plan right now."
The U.S. currently has more than 5,000 American forces in Iraq, under an
agreement between the two countries. The U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq in
2011 when combat operations there ended, but they went back in after IS began
to take over large swaths of the country in 2014.
The number of American forces in Iraq has remained small due to political
sensitivities in the country, after years of what some Iraqis consider U.S.
occupation during the war that began in 2003.