Published: Thu, December 07, 2017
World | By Paul Elliott

Pentagon signals open-ended troop commitment in Syria

Pentagon signals open-ended troop commitment in Syria

Manning also said Wednesday that the United States has about 5,200 troops in Iraq, essentially the same force size as the Pentagon acknowledged under Obama.

The officials arrived at the number using the same system used to quantify the troops in Afghanistan, Manning said.

Despite recent ISIS setbacks, the Pentagon said Tuesday that the U.S. military mission in Syria would continue until areas reclaimed from ISIS are stabilized, adding that United States troops would only withdraw when "conditions" on the ground allowed.

Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said the new number was being provided in the interests of transparency, but stressed the figure was approximate so as to not provide information to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Manning announced the new official figure for American servicemembers in Syria on Wednesday, saying Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wants to increase transparency about where and how troops are deployed. Some 3,000 IS fighters remain distributed between Iraq and Syria, according to coalition estimates. The department had previously omitted forces on temporary rotation from the count, along with a number of other groups.

Pahon said the USA troop commitment would be "conditions-based", meaning no timeline will determine any pull out.

Manning noted that troop numbers in Syria are "trending downward". Last week, about 400 Marines in an artillery unit - 1st Battalion, 10th Marines - that was carrying out strikes against the Islamic State in the city of Raqqa returned to the United States.

The Obama-era policy - continued under President Trump until recently - aimed to draw down USA troops in Afghanistan and create a limited presence to defeat IS in Iraq and Syria.

The U.S. troops are also focused on training local police forces, ensuring humanitarian aid can flow into areas where it is needed and ensuring local governance where U.S. -backed forces liberated land from ISIS, he said. The United States will take a "conditions-based" approach to removing its forces from Syria, he said, aiming to stabilize areas liberated from ISIS control and bolster local groups to govern as it supports United Nations-led peace talks in Geneva. "Their collective actions call into question their commitment to dealing a lasting defeat to [IS] and other extremist groups".

Moscow doesn't "appear to have a plan on how to bring a meaningful conclusion to the civil war that addresses the fundamental problems that led to the rise of ISIS, nor do they appear to be serious about the withdrawal of Iranian-backed militias", Pahon said.

"ISIS left a minefield when they started walking out", he said. He said the US -led coalition would continue to apply "continuous pressure on the terrorist networks wherever they operate".

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