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US Forces Reset In Syria, Islamic State Struggles To Recoup: Gen White

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The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East said the defense forces under him are reset and re-positioned in Eastern Syria and have resumed operations with the Syrian Democratic Forces aimed at defeating the Islamic State.

At a news conference outside his headquarters in Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Robert White, the commander of Combined Joint Operation Inherent Resolve, briefed the media about the current status of U.S. military operations and security situation in Iraq and Syria.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper had said earlier this month that around 600 U.S. troops would remain in Syria to ensure that ISIS doesn't re-emerge and get money from oil fields. Most of them are deployed to northeastern Syria, where President Donald Trump had instructed the Pentagon to protect oil facilities.

Trump had announced last month that the United States was ending its military presence in Syria, except for a small number of U.S. troops that will remain "in the area where they have the oil".

Hundreds of U.S. troops have left northern Syria, and are being re-deployed to Iraq to fight Islamic State terrorists in that country. White said the command will reduce the number of U.S. forces in Eastern Syria. Most of them will return either to the United States or to Kuwait.

U.S. troops are still withdrawing from Kobane, a city in Aleppo, where Syrian and Russian military took control in mid October in a bid to stop Turkish forces from invading it.

U.S. forces withdrew from an area 10 kilometers deep on the Syrian-Turkish border.

Already a complicated battle space, the Turkish move made it even more chaotic, introducing Turkish-supported paramilitary groups, Russian forces and Syrian regime forces into the region, White said.

The U.S.-led coalition's effort is focused on the mission to defeat ISIS, said senior Operation Inherent Resolve officials. The Iraqi and Syrian forces are being helped to take on the terror group.

The physical caliphate that ISIS established has been destroyed, and the mission now is to prevent it from reconstituting itself. ISIS is currently carrying out a relatively low-level of attacks targeting the Iraqi security forces.

Defense officials believe that the terror group wanted to capitalize on the death of their leader Al-Baghdadi, the confused situation in northeast Syria and the anti-government protests in Iraq, but they are not able to do so.

Pentagon estimates that there are roughly 11,000 ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq, but they are ineffectual. They are finding it difficult to move people and material around. They have been forced into marginal areas and cut off from sources of funding and recruiting.

In Iraq, US officials are focusing on building the capabilities of that country's security forces. Their defense and police forces are dealing with the ISIS threat "pretty well," according to them.

If the situation continues to improve, "we would expect to see some sort of continued reduction in our presence over time," the defense officials said.

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