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US begins withdrawing troops from Syria, claims victory over IS

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WASHINGTON: The Donald Trump-led US administration announced that it has started returning US troops home from Syria after claiming a victory in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) without revealing any detailed timetable.

“We have started returning US home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign,” said White House Spokesperson Sarah Sanders in a statement on Wednesday, claiming that America has “defeated the territorial caliphate”.

Pentagon later echoed the White House claim, saying that the US military has already begun the process of bringing the US forces back while emphasizing the continuity of the campaign, Xinhua news agency reported.

 

“The Coalition has liberated the IS-held territory, but the campaign against IS is not over,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a tweet.

All US State Department personnel are being evacuated from Syria within 24 hours, informed sources said.

An official also revealed that the time-frame for the troops withdrawal from the war-torn Arab country is expected to be between 60 and 100 days.

However, a senior Trump administration official, during a background briefing held on Wednesday afternoon, did not directly answer reporters` questions on how the administration intends to withdraw the troops or whether there will a deadline for that.

Sanders` statement came about one hour after US President Donald Trump hinted in a tweet about imminent US troop withdrawal from Syria.

“We have defeated the IS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning.

Earlier on Wednesday, the US media cited anonymous officials as saying that the US is planning a “rapid” and “full” withdrawal of troops from Syria.

Currently, there are more than 2,000 US soldiers deployed in Syria.

Trump has long voiced his desire to bring the US troops back home when possible, while senior administration officials including Defence Secretary James Mattis have advocated for a longer-term military deployment in Syria to secure a victory against the IS.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration`s claim about victory against the IS has been questioned.

“I strongly disagree. It has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive,” tweeted British Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood, following Trump`s claim on the social media.

Senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham warned “devastating consequences” for US troops quitting Syria.

“An American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for IS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia,” the lawmaker from the state of South Carolina said in a statement on Wednesday.


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US withdrawal to drag neighbours back into Afghan war, warns report

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WASHINGTON: The Taliban will lose interest in negotiating peace and Afghanistan’s neighbours will get even more involved in war if the United States withdrew its forces, a US report warns.

But a Republican senator, Rand Paul, said after a recent meeting with Donald Trump that the US president was ready to end America’s 17-year involvement in Afghanistan.

The report — co-authored by two former US special envoys for Afghanistan and two former defence officials — highlights the consequences of a possible withdrawal of half of the 14,000 US from Afghanistan that President Trump suggested last month.

 

The report — written for the RAND Corporation, a US think-tank that specialises in defence affairs — argues that Pakistan, Russia, Iran, India and Uzbekistan, have a history of backing various ethnic groups, such as the Pashtuns, Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara.

“These relationships will likely be reinforced as the central government’s financial base collapses, its writ weakens, and its cohesion erodes,” the report warns, adding that a US withdrawal will do both — undermine the Kabul government and weaken the Afghan economy.

“Pakistan has long tolerated and facilitated use of its territory by the Taliban. In the event of a precipitous US withdrawal, Pak­istan will likely become more open in its backing,” the report claims.

Pakistan has long rejected such claims as “negative speculations”, insisting instead that it no longer allows any terrorist group to use its territories for carrying out attacks inside Afghanistan.

The authors also note that since 2001, Russia and Iran have generally supported the Kabul government but, in recent years, they have also “provided limited aid to the Taliban as a hedge”.

They point out that the Taliban’s main goal in “recently energised” talks with the US “is a negotiated timetable for a US military withdrawal”. An early withdrawal, they argue, will cause the insurgents to “lose interest in negotiating peace with the United States”.

The authors also underline US expectations from the talks: Taliban forswearing ties with extremist groups, denying such groups access to Afghan territory, and becoming part of a new Afghan political and security architecture that is agreed upon among Afghans.

“If Taliban leaders receive or come to expect a cost-free US withdrawal, they will have little incentive to bargain with the United States or with the US-backed Afghan government,” the authors warn.

The report also highlights other consequences of an early US withdrawal, such as: Other North Atlantic Treaty Organi­sation (Nato) forces also leave Afghanistan. The US and other international civilian presence is sharply reduced. External economic and security assistance diminishes. Power moves from the centre to the periphery. Responsibility for security increasingly devolves to regional militias and local warlords.

The Taliban extend their control over territory and population but encounters resistance. Afghanistan descends into a wider civil war.

Civilian deaths rise sharply and refugee flows increase. Extremist groups, including Al Qaeda and Daesh, gain additional scope to organise, recruit and initiate terrorist attacks against US regional and homeland targets.

Senator Paul, however, says that he returned with his White House meeting with President Trump with the impression that he believes “we’ve been at war too long and in too many places”.

In general, “the idea is that we’re going to do things differently. We’re not going to stay forever. The Afghans will have to step up”, he added.

The report’s authors include James Dobbins, a former US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Jason H. Campbell, former country director for the US Secretary of Defence, Sean Mann, a former analyst for the US Special Operations Joint Task Force, Laurel E. Miller, an acting special representative from 2016 to 2017.

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Trump says no amnesty for ‘Dreamers’, bashes Democrats for offer rejection

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Washington: President Donald Trump said that his proposed immigration deal to end a 30-day partial government shutdown would not lead to amnesty for “Dreamers,” but appeared to signal support for amnesty as part of a broader immigration agreement.

In a morning Twitter storm, Trump also said he would not seek the removal of millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States, while bashing House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats for turning down an offer he made on Saturday, including for Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

“No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer. It is a 3-year extension of DACA. Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else,” Trump said on Twitter.

 

“Likewise there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally-but be careful Nancy!”

The Dreamers are protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

DACA was put in place under former President Barack Obama. The Trump administration said in September 2017 it would rescind DACA but it remains in effect under court order.

Trump did not make clear what he was referring to regarding the 11 million people mentioned in his tweet. About 12 million people are living in the United States illegally, according to US Department of Homeland Security estimates.

Speech from the White House, Trump offered three years of protections for Dreamers and for holders of temporary protected status (TPS), another class of immigrants from designated countries affected by armed conflict, natural disaster, or other strife.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell welcomed the plan as a “bold solution”, while a spokesman said McConnell would seek Senate passage of the proposal this week.

The legislation will include bills to fund government departments that have been closed during the shutdown, as well as some disaster aid and the president’s immigration proposal, a McConnell aide said.

But Trump’s amnesty tweet caught some Republicans off guard.

“I don’t know what the president’s calling amnesty,” Senator James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, told ABC’s “This Week” program. “That’s a longer debate and obviously not something we can solve quickly.”

Trump appeared to be responding to conservative critics who accused him of proposing amnesty and reneging on a campaign promise, which could alienate his right-wing base.

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Turkey is ready to take over Syria’s Manbij: Erdogan

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WASHINGTON: Turkey is ready to take over security in Syria`s Manbij, where four U.S. citizens died in an Islamic State-claimed bombing last week, President Tayyip Erdogan told U.S. President Donald Trump in a telephone call on Sunday, the Turkish presidency said.

Erdogan told Trump that the suicide bombing in Manbij, a town in northeast Syria controlled by a militia allied to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, was a provocative act aimed at affecting Trump`s decision last month to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

Trump confounded his own national security team with a surprise decision on December 19 to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, declaring the Islamic State militant group had been defeated there, a view not shared by many experts.

 

Manbij, which U.S.-backed forces captured from Islamic State in 2016, has emerged as a focal point of tensions after Trump`s decision to withdraw U.S. forces whose presence has effectively deterred Turkey from attacking Kurdish forces.

Manbij is controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia allied to the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG. Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has for decades waged a separatist insurgency in Turkey.

In its description of the call, the White House made no mention of Erdogan`s offer to take over security in Manbij but said the two men agreed to keep pursuing a negotiated settlement for northeastern Syria that meets both nations` security needs.

“President Trump underscored the importance of defeating terrorist elements that remain in Syria,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a description of the call.

“The two leaders agreed to continue to pursue a negotiated solution for northeast Syria that achieves our respective security concerns. They also discussed their mutual interest in expanding the trade relationship between the United States and Turkey,” the spokeswoman added.

Trump has previously warned Turkey not to attack the Kurds in Syria and appeared to threaten Turkey`s economy if it did.

In its statement, the Turkish presidency also said that the two leaders had agreed to accelerate discussions between their chiefs of staff about a safe zone in northeastern Syria.

Last week, Trump suggested creating a safe zone, without elaborating. The SDF said on Wednesday it was ready to help create a safe zone, as fears grow that the U.S. withdrawal will give Turkey the opportunity to mount a new assault.

Turkey wants the zone to be cleared of the Kurdish group.

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