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Pentagon withdrawal order for US troops from Syria ‘signed’

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence talks with U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Dec. 19, 2018. (Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr./Department of Defense)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Pentagon has said the order for the withdrawal U.S. troops from Syria has been signed following President Donald Trump’s December 19 announcement setting out plans for a full pullout, U.S. media are reporting.

“The execute order for Syria has been signed,” a spokesperson for the U.S. military was quoted by AFP as saying late on December 23 without offering further details.

CNN said a defense official confirmed to it that the ordered had been signed, and it quoted another official as saying outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis signed it.

Trump in a Twitter video posting on December 19 declared that “we have won” against the Islamic State (IS) terror group operating in Syria and made the surprise announcement he was bringing home all U.S. forces from the war-torn country.

Trump received criticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, former government leaders, and international allies for what they have perceived as a premature withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, where troops have been since 2015 assisting a Syrian Arab and Kurdish alliance fighting against IS.

Many opponents say a quick departure by U.S. forces would represent a betrayal to Kurdish allies who could be at the mercy of nearby Turkish forces. Ankara accuses the fighters of having links to Kurdish insurgents operating in Turkey.

Critics of the U.S. pullout also contend it would hand victories to Iran and Russia, which are active there.

French President Emmanuel Macron on December 23 said he “deeply regretted” Trump’s decision, adding that “an ally must be reliable.”

Some of Trump’s closest allies had attempted to publicly persuade the president to reverse his decision on the pullout.

After Trump revealed his plans, Mattis announced his resignation in protest of the president’s foreign policy. The top U.S. envoy to the global coalition to counter Islamic State, Brett McGurk, also announced his resignation.

Syria has been engulfed in a seven-year civil war. Russia and Iran back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The United States and Turkey back differing antigovernment fighters.

IS also joined the fight, opposed by all other sides. After gaining wide stretches of territory in Syria and neighboring Iraq and declaring an Islamic “caliphate,” they have mostly been driven from their strongholds, although they are holding out in some areas.