Roughly 1,000 American troops that are being withdrawn from Syria will be relocated to western Iraq. From there, they will conduct operations to prevent the Islamic State's resurgence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Sunday.
Esper has not ruled out the idea of troops conducting counterterrorism operations from Iraq into Syria. He said that decision would be worked out in time, the Associated Press reported.
The troops will have two missions in Iraq.
“One is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-ISIS mission as we sort through the next steps,” he said. “Things could change between now and whenever we complete the withdrawal, but that’s the game plan right now.”
As it currently stand, 5,000 American troops are currently deployed in Iraq, which stems from an agreement between the two countries. Troops were originally pulled out of Iraq when operations ended in 2011. They were redeployed in 2014 when the Islamic State began taking over large portions of the country.
Esper made clear the withdrawal will take "weeks not days," allowing for a safe and deliberate transitions.
Trump took to Twitter Sunday morning to let Americans know what Esper told him:
Mark Esperanto, Secretary of Defense, “The ceasefire is holding up very nicely. There are some minor skirmishes that have ended quickly. New areas being resettled with the Kurds.” USA soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zones. We have secured the Oil. Bringing soldiers home!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 20, 2019
Esper's comments come after President Donald Trump announced earlier this week that he would be withdrawing troops from northern Syria after a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In the call, Erdogan made clear his forces plan to invade Syria to push back Kurdish forces, known as the YPG, which Turkey deems terrorists. The YPG has been America's biggest ally in fighting the Islamic State.
Trump has faced criticism for his decision from both sides of the aisle. His former Defense Secretary, James Mattis, voiced concerns about the Islamic State's resurgence should American troops be completely withdrawn from the area.