Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

1,000 US Soldiers in Syria with ‘Flexible’ Powers | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this Jan. 27, 2017, file photo, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, right, and US President Donald Trump walk into the Pentagon in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

London- Around 1,000 US soldiers are currently deployed in Syria, but their commander has flexible powers that allow him to ask for additional forces, a US official at the US Central Command (CENTCOM) told Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday.

CENTCOM spokesperson Maj. Josh Jacques said there was no strategic reserve (of forces) specifically working for the Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the operational name for the joint coalition military intervention against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

“However, OIR Commander US General Stephen Townsend has the powers to spread additional forces that could come from any part of the world,” Jacques said.

His comments came following media reports that US President Donald Trump has given the Pentagon the authority to independently set troop levels in Iraq and Syria.

According to critics, the policy under Barack Obama allowed the White House to have a wider say in decision-making on battles abroad.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon confirmed this process and said: “The move does not mean that the numbers of troops in Iraq and Syria will change nor does it change the process by which we will manage those forces.”

The Pentagon’s statement was confirmed by spokesman for the US-led international coalition Colonel John Dorrian who told Asharq Al-Awsat that the US forces, which were lately deployed in Syria would not participate in the fighting, but their role was limited to advise coalition allies (Syrian Democratic Forces), and support them with artillery powers.

“Our role is to offer support and advisory, not to fight,” he reiterated.

Briefing reporters via teleconference at the US Embassy in London, Dorian said the number of ISIS militants currently fighting in Raqqa is estimated between 3,000 to 4,000 people, but their number decreased in Mosul to 1,000 terrorists.

Speaking about foreign fighters who had joined ISIS and are now seeking to escape and return home, Dorrian said in most cases, those fighters are being captured, either by the SDF, the Iraqi security forces or in Turkey.
“We’re not seeing a tremendous number of those because a lot of the foreign fighters are very hardcore and they came here to die,” Dorrian said.