In this Feb 27, 2018 photo, US Army General Joseph Votel, commander of the US Central Command, testifies during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. US media quoted Votel as saying that the US is going to withdraw its troops from Syria in weeks. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)
WASHINGTON – US media reported on Sunday quoting a top commander that the United States is likely to start withdrawing its troops from Syria in weeks.
General Joseph Votel, the chief commander of US Central Command overseeing troops in the Middle East and Afghanistan, made the remarks while speaking to the media on a military airplane heading to the region.
Moving people is easier than moving equipment and so what we're trying to do right now is again (to) kind of clear out those materials, that equipment, that we do not need.
General Joseph Votel, US Army
"Probably weeks. But again, it will all be driven by the situation on the ground," he was quoted by The New York Times as saying. "In terms of the withdrawal ... I think we're right on track with where we wanted to be."
"Moving people is easier than moving equipment and so what we're trying to do right now is again (to) kind of clear out those materials, that equipment, that we do not need," he added, warning however that the exact timing is still not settled.
Votel told the media that the overall US troops' number in Iraq "is going to remain more or less steady."
CNN reported that Votel, who is retiring, is on a two-week "farewell tour." He was also reportedly going to meet key foreign military and government leaders in the region "to thank them for their support for the US-led coalition" and "find ways to reassure SDF commanders in his final weeks in office that the United States is not abandoning them."
The US-led multinational coalition has been engaged in an operation to drive out the Islamic State (IS) militants from their last stronghold in the eastern Euphrates region in eastern Syria.
In December, however, Trump announced his decision to withdraw US troops from Syria, citing that the local IS force has been largely defeated.
Nevertheless, several bombs have been detonated in Syria since then, claiming lives of several US soldiers and local militants. Former US Secretary of Defense James Mattis also resigned shortly after Trump's withdrawal decision.
Votel said on Tuesday that despite the progress of the multinational campaign against the IS in Syria, "it is important to understand that ... the fight against IS and violent extremists is not over and our mission has not changed."
Noting that some remaining IS fighters have "dispersed" and "gone to ground," he said the IS forces have the ability of "coming back together."
When asked whether he was asked for his advice about a Syria withdrawal before Trump announced his decision last year, Votel said that "I was not consulted."
HONG KONG NEWS