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A Look At U.S. Military In Syria

Nov 11, 2019
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

U.S. troops are trying to clarify their mission in Syria. President Trump has been criticized for relocating some troops, which made it easier for Turkey to attack Kurds in northern Syria a month ago. Those Kurds have been a key U.S. ally in fighting ISIS. NPR's Jane Arraf visited U.S. troops in Syria today.

Hi, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: So the military flew you to a couple locations. You're in a helicopter today. What did troops tell you about what their mission is right now?

ARRAF: Well, one of the stops was a remote base in Hasaka Province, and there were armored fighting vehicles called Bradleys. There were troops from a National Guard unit that went on their first mission yesterday, protecting U.S. military convoys. And, Ari, there, was a senior U.S. military commander, Maj. Gen. Eric Hill, who explained what they were doing with U.S. forces, following President Trump's plan to withdraw troops from there.

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ERIC HILL: We are bringing them out of the western part of the areas we used to control, and we're moving them back into Iraq. And some of them - and most of them, we're moving back to the states. The forces that remain here will stay in the east, and they will stay in Syria to continue the fight as it continues on through the Syrian Democratic Forces.

ARRAF: So the Syrian Democratic Forces are those U.S.-Kurdish Syrian partners who helped defeat ISIS, the ones essentially abandoned when U.S. forces withdrew from areas near the Turkish border last month. And President Trump isn't actually withdrawing all the troops, though. Hundreds have been ordered to stay to protect oil installations. So here's the confusion. If fighting ISIS is still the priority, as the Pentagon says it is, how does bringing in tanks and troops to protect the oil further that?

SHAPIRO: So, Jane, I know you also met with some Kurdish officials who are working with the Americans. Many of them have accused the U.S. of betraying the Kurds by allowing Turkey to attack. How are they feeling now?

ARRAF: Not very reassured - two of the main spokesmen for those forces spoke to reporters alongside the U.S. military spokesman, and it was all very gracious. They thanked each other. But those Kurdish forces have lost more than 10,000 fighters fighting ISIS, so it was all quite a shock when the U.S. left them unprotected against Turkish forces. In front of the TV cameras, it was all very diplomatic. But when I spoke with one of the spokesman, Mustafa Bali, after, you could sense the bitterness.

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MUSTAFA BALI: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: So today was Veterans Day, and Bali said American soldiers go home to their girlfriends and their families and have barbecues while Kurdish Syrian soldiers go home in coffins. And as he spoke, mortars landed just a few miles away.

SHAPIRO: Sounds like the situation there is still very unsettled. Tell us more about the violence that's been happening.

ARRAF: Well, there have been car bombs today - three car bombs in one of the biggest cities in the Kurdish-led region, and particular concern in the Kobani region, where U.S. forces pulled out about the fate of Christians and other minorities. Today a priest and his son were shot dead while driving. ISIS claimed responsibility, which tells you what a volatile mix that region is.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Jane Arraf in Erbil, Iraq.

Thank you.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.