Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel (right), CENCTOM commander, speaks aboard a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3). Photo: Spc. 3rd Class Kaitlyn E. Eads | US Navy
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The United States could pull its forces from Syria within "weeks," but the commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM) has refused to give a specific date.
“Probably weeks. But again, it will all be driven by the situation on the ground," Gen. Joseph Votel told reporters while en route to the Middle East.
The commander of all US forces in the Middle East and North Africa didn't want to forecast his hand as it could risk the lives of his forces, allies, and partners in Syria.
“In terms of the withdrawal ... I think we’re right on track with where we wanted to be,” Votel said.
US President Donald Trump announced in December his decision to pull US forces out of Syria.
Attempts by analysts who warn of a rushed or preemptive pullout seem to have fallen on deaf ears in the White House.
“Moving people is easier than moving equipment and so what we’re trying to do right now is again [to] kind of clear out those materials, that equipment, that we do not need," added Votel.
The US military has not indicated that it will defy the commander in chief’s orders, but commanders have refused to specify an exact date to withdraw.
It was widely reported that the United States intends to withdraw in April. US officials quickly dismissed the rumored timeline.
UK Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika tweeted on Monday the coalition will pursue ISIS "until that threat is eliminated."
The US-led international coalition to defeat ISIS has partnered on the ground with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a primarily Kurdish-led force, to fight ISIS in northeastern Syria.
Day-by-day, the SDF and coalition say they are closer to the final military defeat of ISIS.
The SDF have relied on massive coalition air support in most of their battles against ISIS. Much of the air support is coordinated by US forces embedded with the SDF.
It remains unclear whether the SDF can prevent an ISIS resurgence without direct US ground support following the impending declaration of the ISIS defeat.
Turkey, which opposes US support of the SDF, has said it is ready to commence anti-ISIS operations in northern Syria — west of the Euphrates [i.e. Manbij] in "weeks" and east of the Euphrates in "months."
The dominant SDF force, the Peoples' Protection Units' (YPG), have said they will oppose any Turkish operation into northern Syria. The YPG deems such Turkish actions as ethnic cleansing and a violation of Syria sovereignty.
Turkey considers the YPG to be the Syrian offshoot of the PKK. It wants to see the YPG disarmed of heavy weaponry.