The US will keep a small American “peacekeeping force” in Syria, the White House has said, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.
Sarah Sanders, White House press secretary, said Washington would keep behind 200 troops “for a period of time," to help its Syrian Kurdish allies contain Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
The announcement partially reversed President Trump’s abrupt decision in December to withdraw by April the entire 2,000-strong US contingent, which had alarmed the US’s Syrian partners and prompted both the-then Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and anti-Isil envoy Brett McGurk to resign.
Although the US contingent would now be small, Kurdish leaders suggested it could have a major impact on the fate of northeastern and eastern Syria, preventing a security vacuum. Washington could retain control of the air space and its European allies could complement the force with more troops.
"We evaluate the White House decision positively," Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of foreign relations in the region held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told Reuters.
"This decision may encourage other European states, particularly our partners in the international coalition against terrorism, to keep forces in the region," Mr Omar added. "I believe that keeping a number of American troops and a larger number of (other) coalition troops, with air protection, will play a role in securing stability and protecting the region too."
A Western diplomat said it remained to be seen whether European allies would contribute troops, or whether the force would be able to secure the area.
The SDF is trying to clear Isil’s final pocket of territory in the village of Baghouz in eastern Deir Ezzor province, which has taken more than a month.
The huge number of civilians has complicated the fighting, which has been paused several times to allow women and children to escape.
Some 300 Isil fighters, along with hundreds of civilians believed to be mostly their families, have been under siege for more than a week in the tent camp.
More than 30 trucks of people were evacuated yesterday.
Mustafa Bali, SDF’s spokesman, suggested many more civilians were inside, in caves and tunnels under the tents as well as surrounding homes and buildings.