Exclusive: U.S. Military Completes Pullback from Northeast Syria, Esper Says (excerpt)
(Source: Reuters; published Dec 05, 2019)
By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON --- The United States has completed its military pullback in northeastern Syria, settling into a more stable posture of about 600 troops in the rest of the country after repositioning and reducing forces, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said.

Esper’s remarks in an interview with Reuters could signal the end of a period of turbulence and uncertainty surrounding the U.S. military presence in Syria after President Donald Trump’s initial withdrawal order in October.

Since then, troop levels in Syria have fallen about 40 percent from around 1,000.

Esper stressed he retained the ability to move in and out smaller numbers of forces as needed into Syria. But he suggested the number of troops will fluctuate around the 600-level for the foreseeable future.

“It will be relatively static around that number. But if we see things happen ... I can dial up a little bit,” Esper said late on Wednesday during a flight back from the NATO summit on the outskirts of London. (end of excerpt)


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No Plans to Leave Iraq, Defense Official Says
(Source: US Department of Defence; issued Dec 05, 2019)
The U.S. military presence in Iraq is predicated on permission to be there from the Iraqi government, and U.S. forces will remain so long as the Iraqi government agrees, the undersecretary of defense for policy said.

"Our intention is to stay. Do we plan to change the posture of U.S. forces? Not at this time," said John C. Rood, who spoke yesterday during a Defense Writers Group meeting in Washington.

"We are very clear that we are there with the permission of the Iraqi government," Rood said. "And that is a necessary condition for U.S. forces to be there."

U.S. military initiatives in Iraq have been effective, he said. Those initiatives include helping Iraqi military forces build their capabilities, providing other types of assistance and also assisting with the conduct of the fight against ISIS.

"ISIS at one time occupied and controlled large swaths of Iraqi territory," Rood said. "The fight against ISIS is not done. There are still a substantial number of ISIS fighters there. And the Iraqi government knows that and they really value — and I heard this directly from them — the partnership with U.S. forces, the partnership with the U.S. military in addressing that."

Soldiers lay protected behind a berm. One points a rifle. Another looks over the berm.

Protests in Iraq, which kicked off in October, have been met in some cases with violence on the part of the Iraqi government, he said. This is something that Rood said the U.S. has addressed.

"Obviously, the violence occurring in the protests and against the protestors is also something we persistently express concerns about, directly, and I did, to the Iraqi leadership," he said. "We've made no secret of the fact we'd like to see greater restraint exercised in terms of the use of violence there."

Rood also said, however, he finds the tone of those protests to be noteworthy — especially in the national identity being expressed by the Iraqi population.

"There is an Iraqi identity that is evident in the protests and in the reaction to them throughout the country that is more pronounced, I think, than most Iraq observers have seen in recent months and years," he said. "[It's] an Iraqi identity and a willingness and a desire to be a state that stands on its own two feet to a greater extent, and a reaction against some of the negative Iranian influence, the influence of other countries trying to interfere in internal Iraqi activities."

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