A picture taken on April 2, 2018 shows a general view of a US military base in the al-Asaliyah village, between the city of Aleppo and the northern town of Manbij. Photo: Delil Souleiman | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The United States is planning to send more troops to Syria ahead of Tuesday’s National Security Council meeting, despite President Donald Trump’s declarations of leaving the country “very soon.”
Department of Defense and White House officials have told CNN and other US media that the military plans to send dozens of additional US troops to northern Syria.
The US acknowledges a presence of 2,000 forces in Syria, although analysts believe the number is higher, given undisclosed Special Forces missions, and the manipulation of data through troop rotations.
Trump is set to convene his first National Security Council meeting with former UN Ambassador John Bolton assuming the role. He replaces H.R. McMaster, a retired US Army General.
On Thursday, Trump gave a speech in Ohio where he said the United States was "knocking the hell out of ISIS" and would be "coming out of Syria like very soon."
Later in the day, an American and a British soldier were killed in the northern city of Manbij, where the US-led international anti-ISIS coalition has maintained a visible presence to support its Syrian Democratic Forces and Manbij's military and civil councils.
Rudaw English requested details of the nature of the mission from the coalition, given US claims that its role in Syria is the total defeat of ISIS and that "nearly 100 percent" of areas once controlled by the group in Syria have now been liberated.
On Monday, Pentagon spokesperson told reporters that US Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar and British soldier Sgt. Matt Tonroe were "conducting a mission to kill or capture a known ISIS member."
"This operation was part of the Coalition's mission to defeat ISIS, and we remain focused on our mission," Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said.
Manbij is located west of the Euphrates. Its council members have been increasingly targeted by Harakat al-Qiyam (Resurrection Movement).
The coalition did not clarify to Rudaw English whether Harakat al-Qayim was responsible for the attack, or if the group is considered to be an ISIS group.
Trump has urged for "other people to take care if it now."
"Very soon, very soon, we're coming out. We're gonna have a 100 percent of the caliphate," he also said on Thursday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed the US reneged on a promise to remove Kurdish YPG forces from Manbij. The mostly-Kurdish People's Protection Units have formed the backbone of the coalition's partnered ground forces. Turkey considers the YPG to be the Syrian extension of the PKK, a named terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.
France, as part of the coalition, has offered to mediate between the Kurdish group and Ankara.
Turkey rejected the offer.
“Who are you to talk about mediation between Turkey and a terror group?” said Erdogan on Friday.
AFP photojournalist Delil Souleiman, who has embedded with Kurdish and coalition forces through the ISIS conflict, reported on Tuesday that tensions are high between Turkish and coalition-backed forces in northern Syria.
"We're on high alert. There are always skirmishes at night," Kurdish fighter Shiyar Kobane said. "They fire mortar rounds and shell our positions."
Turkey has a presence in nearby Jarabulus and al-Bab.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the White House was freezing $200 million in US diplomatic funds for the coalition in Syria.
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