BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Kurdish-led administration that runs much of northern Syria welcomed a U.S. decision to keep 200 American troops in the country after a pullout, saying it would protect their region and may encourage European states to keep forces there too.
“We evaluate the White House decision ... positively,” Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of foreign relations in the region held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, told Reuters.
The White House announced the plans on Thursday to keep “a small peacekeeping force” in Syria, partly reversing a decision by President Donald Trump in December to pull out the entire 2,000-strong force.
Trump’s abrupt announcement of the pullout had been opposed by senior aides including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who quit in response, and stunned allies including the Kurdish-led SDF, which fought against Islamic State with U.S. backing for years.
“This decision may encourage other European states, particularly our partners in the international coalition against terrorism, to keep forces in the region,” Omar added.
“I believe that keeping a number of American troops and a larger number of (other) coalition troops, with air protection, will play a role in securing stability and protecting the region too,” he said.
The SDF is led by a Kurdish militia, which Turkey considers an enemy. Kurdish officials had feared that a total U.S. withdrawal would create a security vacuum and allow Turkey to launch a long-promised offensive against them.
The Kurds, who seek autonomy within Syria, have made overtures to the government of President Bashar al-Assad, seeking security guarantees as Washington withdraws.
“I believe that these forces in this region ... will be a motivation, an incentive and also a means of pressure on Damascus to try seriously to have a dialogue to resolve the Syrian crisis,” Omar said.
Reporting by Ellen Francis; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff