US says 'no timetable' for military withdrawal from Syria
US Special Envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey, said on Friday that there is no timetable for an American military withdrawal from the war-torn country, and that a small number of troops will remain in Syria for the foreseeable future.
It follows a pledge by President Donald Trump in December for the immediate withdrawal of American forces from the country, a pledge that has been resisted by policy makers.
During an online briefing, Jeffrey said there is "no timetable" for the US American withdrawal and confirmed that a smaller force would remain.
"We anticipate that with a smaller force going on into the future and with far less combat [and] with the final battle against Daesh about to finish we will have far less costs than [before]," he said.
Jeffrey added that the mission against IS in Syria currently costs around $2 billion annually - most of which goes on "guided munitions" - but this figure should be reduced once the jihadis are defeated on the battlefield.
He confirmed that IS has just a few hundred fighters on less than one square kilometres of territory along the Euphrates River, in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz.
"But the struggle to defeat the ideology, the struggle to defeat sleeper cells, the struggle to secure and stabilise regions that have been terrorised by ISIS for years... will continue," he said.
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He added between 15,000 and 20,000 IS sympathisers remain in Syria and Iraq, which form sleeper cells or an insurgent force.
"The good news is that other than controlling this small stretch of territory they no longer control terrain. They no longer have a caliphate or a state, they no longer have an organised army or heavy weapons but they are able to function, as you will, as a terrorist organisation and as a low-level insurgency and they are very active in parts of Iraq," he added.
"Thus many of us have military presence in Iraqi to assist the Iraqi government... to defeat this threat."
He confirmed that the US will also retain a small force in Syria, despite Trump's promises of a "swift withdrawal".
"The president in withdrawing forces in December... we are keeping some forces on for an indefinite period of time to continue the core mission on... the enduring defeat of ISIS," he added.
Jeffrey added that European partners in the anti-IS coalition will also play a role in peacekeeping missions, although he failed to reveal numbers or countries that have pledged their commitment to the force.
"Aside from a small number of American troops, we've asked other members of the coalition to provide certain troop contingents as well, as part of the president's very important goal of burden sharing among our members."
The interview came following an EU conference for Syria, where attendees pledged $7 billion in humanitarian assistance to refugees.
"The participants of the conference recognise that this is not just a human crisis this has a cause, and that is the behaviour of Assad regime and those who support [it]," he said.
He said the US' mission for Syria now was a de-escalation of the conflict and assist the UN in its push to find a solution to the war.
Syria's war broke out eight years ago, when the revolution officially began on 15 January 2011. Protests were brutally suppressed by Bashar al-Assad's regime, sparking widespread armed resistance.
Russia and Iran have bolstered the regime financially, politically and militarily, with Assad appearing close to falling many times in the war.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Friday that 370,000 people have died in the conflict, although other monitors have put the figure at over half-a-million.