This AFP photo shows US servicemen from the US-led coalition visiting fighters with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) at the site of Turkish airstrikes near northeastern Syrian Kurdish town of Derik in April.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The United States said it is not planning to remain in Syria beyond its current role in leading the global anti-ISIS coalition.
Heather Nauert, the spokesperson for the US State Department, was asked if the Americans were planning to stay “after defeating ISIS” in Syria.
“Look, that is not our plan. Our intent is to defeat ISIS, and we're keeping our focus on that,” she replied during a press conference on Friday.
On the heels of a recent decision to end a covert CIA operation in support rebels opposed to the Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad, the United States has maintained that its operations in the Syrian Arab Republic are focused on defeating ISIS.
Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, said earlier this week that “The Department of Defense does not discuss timelines for future operations. However we remain committed to the destruction of ISIS [Daesh] and preventing its return.”
Turkish state media Anadolu Agency published the locations of 10 alleged US bases in northern Syria in July along with troop counts. Anadolu said it had gathered the information from field reports, rejecting that the information had been leaked by Turkish government officials.
The US-led coalition at the time stated “Publishing this type of information would be professionally irresponsible and we respectively [sic] request that you refrain from disseminating any information that would put Coalition lives in jeopardy.”
Several of the bases had already been reported on and US officials have been asked if there is a long-term plan to establish military bases in Syria.
“We have established and closed many of these temporary bases in order to support the operations. And those are some of the things and some of the signs to show that, you know, we are very nimble,” said Coalition Spokesperson Ryan Dillon, a US Army colonel, during a teleconference with Pentagon reporters on Thursday.
The US military denies that there has been a troop surge in Iraq and Syria.
“The numbers in Iraq and in Syria remain the same. In Iraq, that is 5,200 and in Syria it's just over 500,” said Dillon on Thursday. “But there is ways, and we will shift and make sure that our advisers and the right resources are positioned to provide support to the Iraqi security forces.”
The United States and Turkey are NATO allies and members of the anti-ISIS coalition, but have disagreed on what ground forces to support. Washington has backed alliances of local partnered ground forces including members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Ankara has supported fighters the Free Syrian Army (FSA) who have clashed with Kurdish fighters in the north, and at different times the Americans and Russians have had to intervene to prevent further bloodshed.
Turkey maintains the YPG is linked to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it has banned and designated to be a terrorist group The PKK has been fighting a 30-year guerrilla war with the Turkish government. YPG denies any organic links to the PKK.
Last month, US General Raymond Thomas, the head of Special Operations Command, said he advised the YPG to “change your brand” during the fight against ISIS in 2015.
The Kurdish YPG comprise about half of the US-led coalition backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who have currently retaken much of northern Syria from ISIS and control about 55 percent of Raqqa, the so-called ISIS capital.