US-coalition forces 'to remain' in Syria despite Russian withdrawal

US-coalition forces 'to remain' in Syria despite Russian withdrawal
The US State Department said its coalition forces will remain in Syria to continue fighting pockets of Islamic State militants, despite the Russian withdrawal.
2 min read
13 December, 2017
The US is leading an international anti-IS coalition in the region [Getty]
The US-led international coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group in Syria said it will remain in the country despite Russia's withdrawal, noting the war is not yet over.

"The presence of the coalition has nothing to do with the presence or withdrawal of Russian troops from the country," the US State Department confirmed on Tuesday.

"I cannot comment on alleged Russian actions, so I have to refer you to the Russian government in this regard," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said during a briefing on Russia's announcement of its withdrawal from Syrian territory.

"Russia may think that its work in Syria is over, but our mission there is not over yet complete. There are still pockets of IS militants and the country is in need of stability."

"If Russia chooses to withdraw, this certainly is an option for it, but we will continue to work through our partners to stabilise the country," she said.

Nauert also denied a New Yorker report suggesting the administration of President Donald Trump had agreed to allow Syrian President Bashar Assad to remain in power until the upcoming 2021 Syrian elections.

"We do not accept any such thing. The remainder of Assad or his departure is not decided by the United States but by the Syrian people," she said, adding the US believes that "the future of Syria should not include Bashar Assad".

On Monday, Russia said elements of Moscow's military contingent to Syria had begun returning home, after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory against "terrorists" in the war-ravaged country.

General Sergei Surovikin, the Russian military commander in Syria, said the military will pull out 23 warplanes, two helicopter gunships, special forces units, military police and field engineers.

Surovikin said the remaining forces will be sufficient to "successfully fulfill the tasks" to stabilise the situation in Syria, but did not say how many troops and weapons would stay behind.

However, Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said such declarations made by Russia were not necessarily reflected by action.

"Russian comments about removal of their forces do not often correspond with actual troop reductions, and do not affect US priorities in Syria," he said.

A US official told AFP that Putin was likely to carry out a "token withdrawal" of some aircraft, then follow up by demanding the United States pulls its forces out of Syria.