American troops being withdrawn from northern Syria will be moved to western Iraq to continue the fight against Islamic State (ISIS), U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said.
“The U.S. withdrawal continues apace from northeastern Syria… we’re talking weeks not days,” Esper told reporters.
“The current game plan is for those forces to re-position into western Iraq,” Esper added, noting that the forces would number about a thousand.
Ankara launched a cross-border attack against Syria’s Kurds on Oct. 9 after U.S. President Donald Trump said American troops would be pulled out of northern Syria.
A U.S.-brokered ceasefire was announced on Oct. 17 gave Kurdish forces until Tuesday evening to withdraw from a “safe zone” Ankara wants to create along its southern frontier.
Commenting on the ceasefire agreement, Trump said that ISIS in Syria “is totally under control and we’re continuing to capture more.”
Dozens of Kurdish fighters on Sunday left the Turkish-besieged town of Ras al-Ain in northern Syria in what appeared to be the start of a wider withdrawal under the ceasefire deal, AFP reports.
A Kurdish source said on Sunday there was a “plan to withdraw” from Ras al-Ain, and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights later said Kurdish forces had fully withdrawn from the border town.
Turkey’s defense ministry confirmed that Kurdish fighters were leaving the town. In a statement, it said 55 vehicles had entered Ras al-Ain and 86 had left “in the direction of Tal Tamr” to the south. The ministry also said one of its troops was killed by Kurdish forces near the town of Tal Abyad.
At least 50 vehicles, including ambulances, left Ras al-AIn hospital, from which flames erupted shortly after their departure, according to AFP.
Dozens of fighters in military attire left on pickups, passing by checkpoints manned by Ankara-allied Syrian fighters, the report said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has continued to threaten the Kurds. On Friday, he warned that his country would restart its operation against Kurdish forces in Syria on Tuesday evening if they did not withdraw from the “safe zone”.
On Saturday, Erdogan warned that if there is no solution to the Kurdish crisis “Turkey will find a solution for itself” and threatened to “smash the heads of the Kurdish terrorists.”