Pentagon skeptical about Russia’s Syria pullout claims

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visit the Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province, Syria on Monday. (REUTERS)
Updated 12 December 2017
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Pentagon skeptical about Russia’s Syria pullout claims

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon has voiced skepticism about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he had ordered the partial withdrawal of troops from Syria.
Putin visited the war-torn nation on Monday and said a “significant part” of the Russian troop contingent in Syria is heading home after their mission had been largely completed.
But Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said such declarations were not necessarily reflected by action.
“Russian comments about removal of their forces do not often correspond with actual troop reductions, and do not affect US priorities in Syria,” he said.
A US official said that Putin was likely to carry out a “token withdrawal” of some aircraft, then follow up by demanding the US pulls its forces out of Syria.
The US military last week said it would stay in Syria, where it is fighting Daesh, as long as necessary to ensure the terrorists do not return.
The “coalition will continue to operate in Syria in support of local forces on the ground to complete the military defeat of ISIS (Daesh) and stabilize liberated territory, in turn allowing for displaced Syrians and refugees to return,” Rankine-Galloway said.
Syria’s conflict began in March 2011 with anti-regime protests, but quickly spiraled into a bitter and complex civil war, with Daesh just one element.
The open-ended US commitment in Syria is likely to rile Russia, which since late 2015 has conducted a separate military campaign to prop up the regime of President Bashar Assad. The size of the Russian deployment in Syria is not known, but independent Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer has told AFP that up to 10,000 troops and private contractors could have taken part in the conflict.
The EU also warned that the war in Syria was “still ongoing” and civilians were being attacked.
EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc was ready to do whatever was needed to support UN-brokered peace efforts, but warned the idea that “things can go back to normal unfortunately has no real ground.”
“Conflict is still ongoing, even if some wish to pretend it is over,” she told reporters in Brussels.
“We know very well that on the ground fighting is still going on, civilians are still attacked and we see that with our humanitarian support every single day inside Syria.”


Turkey says it will not let the US hold it back in Syria

Updated 17 December 2018
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Turkey says it will not let the US hold it back in Syria

  • Turkey said it would launch a new operation within days against the US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia
  • Relations between the two NATO allies have long been strained by Syria policy

ISTANBUL: Turkey pledged on Monday to press ahead with plans to target a Kurdish militia in northern Syria, brushing off what it said were American efforts to stymie Turkish military operations east of the Euphrates.
President Tayyip Erdogan said last week that Turkey would launch a new operation within days against the US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. The Pentagon expressed grave concern and said unilateral military action there by any party would be “unacceptable.”
Relations between the two NATO allies have long been strained by Syria policy. The United States has backed the YPG against Daesh fighters. Ankara, however, sees the YPG as terrorists tied to PKK militants who have fought an insurgency in southeast Turkey for 34 years.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Washington had tried to hold Turkey back during two operations in Syria in the last two years against Daesh and the YPG, which controls swathes of Syria’s northern border region.
“The United States thought it could deter us with the men it has nurtured,” he said during a visit to Pakistan, state-owned news agency Anadolu reported. “Now, they will try to hold us back east of the Euphrates. Turkey did not, and will not, allow that.”
Turkey has not yet launched an operation east of the Euphrates but has kept up regular air strikes against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants based in Iraq’s mountains.
Baghdad summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq on Friday after Ankara said it killed eight PKK fighters. But Turkish warplanes have since carried out further strikes.
On Monday, Turkey’s defense ministry said air strikes on Sunday targeted northern Iraq’s Gara and Hakurk areas and “neutralized” seven militants preparing to attack Turkish bases.
Erdogan has said Turkish forces will enter the Syrian town of Manbij, west of the Euphrates, if the United States does not remove YPG fighters there and will also target the eastern side, where the YPG controls an area stretching more than 400 km (250 miles) along the border toward Iraq.
On Sunday he vowed again to maintain attacks on militants.
“We are always in the heads of the terrorists. We are burying them in the ditches they dig. We will continue to bury them,” he said in a rally in Istanbul.
“Terrorists will cease to be an affliction for my nation,” he said. “Together with God’s permission we are making those who attack our homeland and borders pay the price.”
The United States has set up observation posts on the Syrian border, saying they will deter security threats against Turkey coming from Syria. It has warned Turkey against a new incursion.