Trump: Israel and Jordan asked to leave a small number of troops in Syria

According to Trump, these troops will remain in a different area than the one in which the fighting is taking place

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts during a campaign rally in Dallas, Texas, U.S., October 17, 2019 (photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
U.S. President Donald Trump reacts during a campaign rally in Dallas, Texas, U.S., October 17, 2019
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump said on Monday that Israel and Jordan asked him to leave an unspecified number of troops near the Syrian-Jordanian border.
“We’ve been asked by Israel and Jordan to leave a small number of troops, [it] is a totally different section of Syria, near Jordan, and close to Israel, and that’s a totally different section. That’s a totally different mindset,” the president said at the beginning of a cabinet meeting at The White House.
“So, we have a small group there, and we secured the oil. Other than that, there’s no reason for it, in our opinion.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon was considering keeping some US troops near oil fields in northeastern Syria alongside Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to help deny oil to Islamic State terrorists.
When a reporter asked Trump if he would consider leaving additional American troops in Syria, the president said he doesn’t think it will be necessary.
“I don’t want to leave any troops there,” Trump said. “That’s a very dangerous territory. We have 28 troops [there]. And you have an army on both sides of those troops. Those troops would have been wiped out.”
Speaking about his decision to withdraw from northern Syria leaving the Kurds for themselves, the president said: “We’re working with the Kurds. A good relationship with the Kurds, but we never agreed to protect the Kurds. We supported them for three-and-a-half, four years. We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives.”
Trump added that it appeared a five-day pause negotiated last week in the Turkish offensive against US-allied Kurdish-led fighters in northern Syria was holding despite some skirmishes.
Turkey began its cross-border operation following Trump’s decision two weeks ago to withdraw US troops from the area.
US officials said then that those troops were expected to be repositioned in the region. Some of them could go to Iraq.
The American withdrawal has been criticized by US lawmakers, including some fellow Republicans, as a betrayal of Kurdish allies who for years have helped the United States fight the Islamic State.
French President Emmanuel Macron said that it was important to extend the ceasefire in northeast Syria in a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.
Macron also said he expected tensions in northeast Syria to be resolved through diplomatic ways.
Turkey is holding covert contacts with Syria’s government to avert direct conflict in northeast Syria where both sides have deployed their armies, Turkish officials say, despite Ankara’s long-standing hostility to President Bashar Assad.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan backs rebels who fought to topple Assad during Syria’s eight-year civil war.
He described Assad as a terrorist and called for him to be driven from power, something which earlier in the war appeared possible.
But Assad’s allies Russia and Iran helped turn the conflict round.
Assad’s Russian-backed troops are sweeping back into the region just as Turkish troops move in from the north.
Warily, the two sides have set up channels of communication, both direct military and intelligence contacts and indirect messages through Russia, to reduce the risk of confrontation, three Turkish officials say.
“We have been in contact with Syria on military and intelligence issues for some time in order to avoid any problems on the field,” a Turkish security official told Reuters.
He said contact was first initiated over a separate escalation in northwest Syria, when Russia- backed Syrian troops earlier this year launched an assault in the Idlib region where Turkish troops are deployed.
“Contact with Syria has largely been through Russia, but this communication was done directly between Turkey and Syria at times to avoid Syrian and Turkish soldiers engaging in direct confrontation,” the official added.
While the Turkish government insists that it has not changed its stance towards Assad, the security contacts with Damascus reflect a growing reality that it cannot ignore the Syrian president’s steady restoration of control over his country.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Sunday said they had withdrawn from the border town of Ras al-Ayn under a US-brokered ceasefire deal, but a spokesman for Turkish- backed Syrian rebels said the withdrawal was not yet complete.
Ras al-Ayn is one of two towns on the Turkish-Syrian border that have been the main targets of Turkey’s offensive to push back Kurdish fighters and create a “safe zone” inside Syria that is more than 30 km. (20 miles) deep.
Erdogan has warned that Turkey will resume the assault when the deadline expires on Tuesday if the SDF had not pulled back from the safe zone area.
“We don’t have any more fighters in the city,” SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said, referring to Ras al-Ayn.
His comments came after Ankara said dozens of vehicles had entered and left Ras al-Ayn, which is largely surrounded by Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies, over the weekend.
Rebel spokesman Major Youssef Hamoud told Reuters that the SDF had “not yet completely” pulled out of Ras al-Ayn.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.