Led Coalition Denies Confrontation with Iran-Backed Militia in Iraq

Blanche Robertson
February 6, 2019

In the February 5 speech, Trump made passing reference to his decision to withdraw all USA troops from Afghanistan and Syria - a decision that has anxious US allies.

The US military commander overseeing American troops in the Middle East has told a Senate hearing that he was not consulted ahead of Donald Trump's surprise decision in December to pull US troops out of Syria.

"With newly surfaced reports suggesting that Iraqi politicians are undertaking initiatives to force the troop withdrawal, Marandi told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou that it's uncertain what response Trump's remarks will generate, given the fractured status of the Iraqi government".

"When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria".

"Right now, for the United States, confusion in the minds of allies or potential allies like the Iraqis, is not a good thing because they don't have the same amount of political space when they engage in their sort of strategic calculations", Vatanka said. In a tweet that same day, President Donald Trump declared, "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency".

Trump's Syria withdrawal has also fueled rare, vocal opposition from within his own Republican party. "I was not consulted".

When asked by Brennan if he trusted the intelligence given to him, Trump said that he would disagree with reports if they claimed Iran was a "wonderful kindergarten". US policy has been to keep troops in place until the extremists are eradicated.

United States envoy to meet North Korean counterpart in Pyongyang on Wednesday
The date and venue for the summit, now slated for late February, have yet to be announced, with Vietnam cited as one of the possible locations.

Fears that IS fighters are making strategic maneuvers ahead of a US pullout could also fuel criticism that Trump is telegraphing his military plans - the same thing he accused President Barack Obama of doing in Afghanistan.

Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC, said that Trump's comment "puts the Iraqis in a bad position".

Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, at his weekly news conference late on Tuesday, reminded Trump that there are no USA bases in Iraq and said he doesn't accept the idea of Iraq becoming an arena for fighting a neighbouring country. It also said that ISIS is likely to regain territory after the USA leaves. But the troops have yet to start leaving Syria, and officials subsequently have said the military exodus would unfold over several months.

The Defence Department watchdog report warned that even with the ISIS forces on the run, the militant group "is still able to co-ordinate offensives and counter-offensives, as well as operate as a decentralized insurgency". It also includes an amendment sponsored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that urges Trump not to exit military conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan.

US officials tell Reuters that the military has already started the withdrawal process, adding hundreds of troops to Syria to facilitate a safe pullout. Currently, ISIS is regenerating key functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than in Syria, but absent sustained [counterterrorism] pressure, ISIS could likely resurge in Syria within six to twelve months and regain limited territory in the [Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV)].

In December, a US official said Trump was planning to withdraw more than 5,000 USA troops in Afghanistan, triggering worries about whether a smaller force would be able to fulfill missions under way and stabilize the country. He added that he would wait for clarifications from Washington on the numbers and nature of the US troops' mission in his country.

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