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Iran Press TV

Trump's close ally admits hiding US troop numbers in northern Syria

Iran Press TV

Saturday, 14 November 2020 9:38 AM

Outgoing US special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, says he and his team routinely misled President Donald Trump into believing that that true numbers of American troops in northern Syria were a lot lower than the actual size.

"We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there," Jeffrey made the startling revelation in an interview with Defense One website.

Back in October 2019, Trump ordered the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria. The decision was met with immense criticism from lawmakers, military officials and diplomats like Republican Senator Lindsay Graham and former Pentagon chief James Mattis, who had several policy differences with the president and eventually quit from the top post on the heels of Trump's decision to pull out.

Pentagon officials could at last convince Trump to leave approximately 200 troops behind to "secure" oil fields.

However, the real number of troops in northeast Syria is "a lot more than" the roughly 200 troops Trump initially agreed to leave there, Jeffrey said.

"What Syria withdrawal? There was never a Syria withdrawal," the retiring diplomat said.

Jeffrey said he and other officials "decided to come up with five better arguments for why we needed to stay. And we succeeded both times. That's the story."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday that Jeffrey is stepping down this month from his post and Joel Rayburn, the current deputy assistant secretary for Levant affairs and special envoy for Syria, will replace him. Ambassador Nathan Sales, the State Department's coordinator for counter-terrorism, was designated as the special envoy for the so-called anti-Daesh coalition.

Last week, Jeffrey said there would be "no change" to US troop numbers in Syria following Democrat candidate Joe Biden's projected victory in the US presidential election.

Senior US officials have on occasions complained about Washington's policies in Syria, arguing that the approaches of the Trump administration have stuck American troops fighting a 'forgotten war' and guarding oil and gas resources there, while Russian troops are making advances and help the Damascus government recover after nearly a decade of militancy.

"It's a clusterf**k in Syria," one top US intelligence official, who requested anonymity, told American weekly news magazine Newsweek in early September. "We don't have a strategy."

Malcolm Nance, a former US Navy intelligence and counter-terrorism specialist, also compared the situation to another bloody quagmire for the Pentagon, and said the presence of US troops on the Syrian soil was a political game with little payoff.

"A few special forces supported by artillery and armor units are very much akin to 2002 in Afghanistan. It is now a forgotten war," Nance said.

Mine explosion kills two Turkish soldiers in Syria's Hasakah

Meanwhile, two Turkish soldiers were killed in Syria's northeastern province of Hasakah on Friday evening from the explosion of a landmine.

Russian state-owned RT Arabic television news network, citing unnamed military sources, reported that Turkish troops were about to lay mines on the outskirts of Tall Tamr town, when one of the mines detonated. As a result of the explosion, two soldiers were killed.

Turkish forces kill 14 YPG militants in northern Syria: Ministry

Separately, Turkish forces killed 14 Kurdish militants affiliated with the so-called People's Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria.

The Turkish Defense Ministry said in a statement on Friday that the militants were "neutralized" when they attempted to "infiltrate" into Turkey's operation zone.

Last year, Turkey seized the control of the border town of Ra's al-Ayn after it launched a cross-border invasion of northeastern Syria with the help of its allied armed groups to push YPG militants away from border areas.

Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

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