WASHINGTON — Now that the Islamic State has been pushed from its final sliver of territory in Syria, tons of of American troops — not simply their tools — are leaving the battle zone, simply as President Trump ordered in December.
However within the newest twist to the on-again, off-again American withdrawal, the Pentagon plans to chop its fight drive in northeastern Syria roughly in half by early Could, or to about 1,000 troops, after which pause, American officers mentioned on Friday.
The navy will then assess circumstances on the bottom and cut back the variety of forces each six months or so, till it reaches the 400 troops in Syria that Mr. Trump accepted in February. They are going to embody 200 in a multinational drive within the northeast and one other 200 at a small outpost in southeastern Syria, the place they’ll search to counter Iran’s affect all through the nation.
The pause is a significant shift from Mr. Trump’s preliminary order to drag out all 2,000 American troops from Syria instantly, and has not been beforehand reported.
Commanders and Pentagon officers had mentioned in February that they might almost definitely have to attract all the way down to the smaller residual drive by late April or early Could. However underneath the newest plans, the Pentagon might not have to achieve that lowest troop degree till the autumn of 2020, mentioned the officers, who mentioned the delicate technique on situation of anonymity.
The longer timetable would give the Trump administration extra time to barter with European allies who had mentioned they might not go away troops in Syria if the US withdrew all its forces.
It additionally would permit extra time for Washington to work out particulars of a protected zone south of the Turkish border. The world continues to be weak to each a resurgence of the Islamic State and an incursion by troops from Turkey, which desires to ensure Kurdish fighters can’t launch terrorist assaults throughout its border.
Army officers cautioned on Friday that the withdrawal timetable remained fluid and that last drive ranges have been topic to vary given a variety of things, from allied troop contributions to new instructions from Mr. Trump.
Col. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for the navy’s Joint Chiefs of Workers, declined to touch upon particular withdrawal plans.
“We proceed to implement the president’s route to attract down U.S. forces to a residual presence in a deliberate and coordinated method,” Colonel Ryder mentioned in an e mail. “This work is ongoing and, for operational safety causes, we is not going to focus on particular U.S. troop numbers or drawdown timelines.”
The American navy began withdrawing tools from Syria in January, simply weeks after Mr. Trump’s order to wind down operations. However the variety of troops really elevated to round 3,000 in February to assist shield the ultimate strategy of pulling out.
Officers mentioned it has solely been in latest days that the present variety of American troops fell under the extent of the slight over 2,000 personnel who have been in Syria when Mr. Trump issued his order in December.
“Armed forces are being withdrawn,” James F. Jeffrey, the American particular envoy for Syria, instructed reporters on Monday. “We needed to reinforce initially to herald extra fight energy, and now we’re going again down towards what the ultimate quantity will probably be.”
Mr. Jeffrey and different United States officers warned that even earlier than an American-backed Kurdish and Arab militia ousted the final extremist fighters from the japanese Syrian village of Baghuz final Saturday, the Islamic State had already reverted to its insurgents roots — finishing up guerrilla assaults, bombings and assassinations.
“This isn’t the tip of the battle towards ISIS,” Mr. Jeffrey mentioned, utilizing one other identify for the Islamic State. “That can go on, however it will likely be a unique type of battle.”
“The battle is contemporary in Syria, and ISIS components are in shock from having misplaced this terrain,” Mr. Jeffrey added. “In Iraq, they’ve had extra time to reconstitute. However once more, they’re reconstituting in small teams working within the shadows as a low-level insurgency. They’re not holding terrain, they’re not controlling populations.”
The American-led navy command in Baghdad mentioned in an announcement on Friday that allied and Iraqi safety forces had carried out air and floor operations towards pockets of Islamic State fighters simply throughout the Syria border in northern and western Iraq this week.
And American commandos proceed to hunt Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive Islamic State chief who’s believed to be hiding in space alongside the Iraq-Syria border or the Sunni-dominated area of western Iraq. “Discovering the highest management of ISIS or different terrorist teams is all the time a precedence,” Mr. Jeffrey mentioned.
In one other signal of the open-ended mission, the Protection Division has requested $300 million in its proposed finances for fiscal 2020 — the identical quantity as a 12 months in the past — to proceed supporting the Kurdish-led militia referred to as the Syrian Democratic Forces, in response to Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman. The militia has been the first floor drive combating the Islamic State in Syria.
The Pentagon largely intends to make use of the cash to pay militia forces that may proceed to hold out mop-up operations towards tons of and even 1000’s of Islamic State fighters who stay at massive or who’ve fashioned sleeper cells within the Center Euphrates River Valley, officers mentioned.
The remaining American forces can even proceed to coach the Kurdish and Arab militia.
Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Workers, instructed Congress in testimony this week that the residual drive would “proceed to coach, advise, help for our Kurdish companions on the bottom.”
Mr. Jeffrey famous different priorities on the administration’s to-do checklist in Syria now that offensive actions towards the Islamic State have wound down: humanitarian, reconstruction and stability operations. Thus far, the worldwide coalition has supplied $325 million for postconflict stability and reconstruction efforts in northeastern Syria, he mentioned.
Administration officers say they’re additionally working with Turkey to iron out particulars of a so-called protected zone in an space simply south of the Turkish border in northeastern Syria. “We’re working for an answer that may meet everyone’s wants,” Mr. Jeffrey mentioned.