The US will not be sending any additional troops to Syria even though US troops will perform additional tasks as part of an arrangement with Turkey to patrol a buffer zone along the Syrian-Turkish border, a zone designed to reduce tensions with Ankara, a top US general said Thursday.
Defense officials had told CNN that the Pentagon had been weighing sending a small number of additional troops to Syria in order to conduct joint patrols with Turkey in the buffer zone but military officials are now saying that the new missions will be carried out by US troops already in the country.
“We’re not going to increase our footprint on the ground to conduct these patrols because as we see it right now, this is directly linked to our defeat Daesh mission,” Brig. Gen. Scott Naumann, the director of operations for the US-led military coalition fighting ISIS told reporters on a conference call Thursday.
“Ensuring the security and the stability in the security mechanism zone contributes directly to fighting Daesh and we have sufficient resources on the ground now,” Naumann added, using an Arabic name for ISIS.
Naumann said, “We have around a thousand US forces that are operating throughout Northeast Syria to execute our defeat Daesh and security mechanism zone missions.”
The US and Turkey have been working to establish the buffer zone, which the US calls a “security mechanism,” in northeast Syria as part of a bid to prevent a military incursion into the area that would target Syrian Kurdish groups allied with the US, a potential operation that the US fears could undermine the fight against ISIS.
US and Turkish military forces have conducted a series of helicopter surveillance flights over the area and have conducted one ground patrol as part of the arrangement.
While senior US officials have said that the arrangement with Turkey in northeast Syria is ahead of schedule, Turkish officials have said that they may still conduct a unilateral offensive into the area if their concerns are not addressed.
“The timelines we set with Turkey, we are on pace to meet, and in many cases, have already put things in place prior to the timelines agreed to,” the Defense Department’s Defeat-ISIS Task Force Director, Chris Maier, told reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon.
“We’re pretty convinced that as we work with Turkey, the idea of a Turkish incursion into Syria has gone down substantially,” Maier added.
Since the US began drawing down its troops from a peak of just under 3,000 earlier this year, American forces there have been stretched thin by the need to monitor the border area while also advising the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces as they hunt down the remnants of ISIS.
In December, President Donald Trump announced that he would withdraw all US troops from Syria, an announcement that sparked the resignation of then-Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Trump later partially reversed his decision, agreeing to a small residual US presence to help ensure stability and hunt the remnants of ISIS.