The US has reportedly decided to halt its airstrikes against the Islamic State (Isil) in Syria after it withdraws its troops, a move that would effectively bring an end to the entire Western air campaign against the jihadists. US officials said that Donald Trump’s decision to pull US forces out of Syria would also mean an end to American airstrikes against Isil fighters in the country, according to Reuters. The Pentagon did not deny the report and refused to say if US airstrikes would continue after American forces withdraw in March next year. “As long as there are US troops on the ground we will conduct air and artillery strikes in support of our forces. We will not speculate on future operations,” a Pentagon spokeswoman told The Telegraph. The US provides the overwhelming majority of the firepower for the Western air campaign against Isil and is responsible for around 95 per cent of the air strikes in Syria, according to Airwars, a monitoring group. Britain and France have both signalled that they intend to continue striking Isil even after the US withdraws its ground troops but Airwars said that might not be possible if America withdraws from the air campaign. “Even if the UK and France wished to continue strikes against Isil in Syria, their campaigns are so intertwined with key US assets – intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, refuelling, targeting – that it may not be possible,” the group said. The UK warned earlier in the day that the West “must not lose sight of the threat” Isil poses, even if all its territory is lost. France said it planned to keep around 1,000 troops in northern Syria. Some Kurdish troops are already moving north in anticipation of a Turkish offensive Credit: DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images The most immediate concern for the SDF is that Turkey will take the US pull out as a green light to launch a major offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria. Turkey considers the Kurdish armed groups in Syria to be terrorists. Hulusi Akar, the Turkish defence minister, said Kurdish fighters “will be buried in their ditches” when Turkish troops advance against their positions east of the Euphrates River. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the SDF’s largest constituent force, has already begun moving fighters from the frontline against Isil in eastern Deir Ezzor province to towns along Syria’s northern border with Turkey. One YPG fighter said: “All Kurds expected this to happen at some point, but not like this, not in a tweet with no real explanation, just after Turkey threatens the Kurds with a massacre.” SDF commanders have discussed releasing some of the thousands of Islamic State suspects they are holding in response to the US decision, sources said. Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight…..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2018 The SDF is currently holding 2,000 Isil suspects from more than 44 different countries, including six British men, four British women and some eight of their children. Among those are the so-called Beatles torturers Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee ElSheikh from London. Their home countries have so far refused their return and the SDF had previously warned they would neither try them in Syria nor hold them forever. Another possibility is the SDF could turn them over to the Syrian regime. In the face of widespread confusion and frustration by American allies, Mr Trump took to Twitter to defend his decision, saying the US had borne too much of the burden of fighting against the jihadists. “Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work,” he wrote. “Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing?” The US has around 2,000 troops in Syria Credit: DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, said he agreed with Mr Trump that Isil had been defeated and he said “illegitimate” US forces should leave Syria. “In this Donald is right, I agree with him,” Mr Putin said at his annual press conference. “As for US troops in Syria, I don’t think they’re needed, let’s not forget that presence of your troops there is illegitimate.” Appearing to take advantage of Mr Trump’s announcement, Isil launched a major counterattack on Wednesday on the town of Hajin, which had been captured by the SDF last week. Turkish state media reported that a convoy of US military vehicles began leaving eastern Syria on Wednesday night and crossed over the border into Iraq. SDF forces have been fighting to drive Isil from Hajin Credit: DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images Appearing to take advantage of Mr Trump’s announcement, Isil launched a major counterattack on Wednesday on the town of Hajin, which had been captured by the SDF last week. US diplomats began evacuating Syria immediately after Mr Trump’s withdrawal announcement on Wednesday. The White House would not say how quickly US troops would be withdrawn but US officials told Reuters they would all be out by the end of March. Mr Trump’s own tweets seemed to show a level of confusion about Isil’s capabilities. After declaring that the jihadists were defeated on Wednesday, Mr Trump said Thursday they “are doomed” if they attack the US. “Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us,” Mr Trump said. Both US and Israeli officials have warned that the US withdrawal will allow Iran to entrench itself more deeply in Syria. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, avoided criticising Mr Trump but said Israel would “increase” its efforts against Iran in Syria. Moshe Kahlon, Israel’s finance minister, was more blunt. “The American decision is not good,” he said.
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