The United States military will continue its air campaign in Syria at least in the short term, the Pentagon said on Thursday, December 20, a day after President Donald Trump declared victory over Islamic State.
The U.S. establishment and international allies were shocked on Wednesday when Trump announced that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Syria.
But he did not address the air campaign. Coalition nations including the U.S., France and the United Kingdom have struck ISIS targets across Syria for the past four years.
Pentagon spokesperson Commander Rebecca Rebarich said the U.S. would continue its air war while American soldiers were in Syria – but she would not say if the campaign would continue afterward.
“As long are there are troops on the ground, the U.S. will conduct air strikes in support of our forces,” Rebarich told AFP.
“As for anything post-U.S. troops on the ground, we will not speculate on future operations.”
A U.S. defense official told AFP that “there’s not a lot of clarity on the future situation.”
“What we do in the air campaign will depend on the situation on the ground, and what partners and allies who are continuing the fight against ISIS do,” the official said.
Reuters earlier reported U.S. officials as saying that Trump’s order also signals an end to the U.S. air campaign.
The air war has been the keystone of Coalition operations in Syria, with manned and unmanned aircraft hammering ISIS targets since 2014.
The strikes provide crucial support for the Syrian Democratic Forces who carry out operations on the ground assisted by small numbers of Coalition advisors.
According to the most recent official strike summary, published on Wednesday, the U.S.-led Coalition conducted 208 strikes including 378 engagements in Syria between December 9 and 15. British Typhoon and Tornado multi-role jets and Reaper drones supported strikes and struck targets every day during that period, according to a U.K. Ministry of Defence release.
Backed by those airstrikes, SDF forces last week captured Hajin, the largest village in the last pocket of territory still controlled by ISIS in eastern Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly vowed to clear Syrian territory of predominately-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a key component of the SDF alliance.
Earlier this week Erdogan said Turkey would launch a new operation against the YPG east of the Euphrates river “within days.”
With reporting from AFP