SDF calls for coalition troops to stay
The commander of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Monday called for the 1,000 to 1,500 international troops to remain in Syria to help fight the Islamic State group.
Mazloum Kobani, the leader of the Kurdish-led militia instrumental to destroying IS, hopes the United States in particular will halt plans for a withdrawal, Reuters reported.
"We would like to have air cover, air support and a force on the ground to coordinate with us," Kobani told reporters in Syria after talks with US generals.
The US military is preparing to pull all of its forces out of Syria by the end of April, following a shock announcement in December by US President Donald Trump.
But Trump has not detailed how the US will protect its Kurdish allies from attack after the withdrawal. The SDF fears hostilities from neighbouring Turkey, which sees the Kurdish fighters as the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged a bloody insurgency against Ankara for more than thirty years.
Trump's decision to withdraw shocked allies and led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior officials.
US officials have said that IS has lost 99.5 percent of its territory. The bulk of its fighters have retreated into an area of one square mile in Baghouz, eastern Syria, where it is under siege by the SDF.
But activists and residents say IS still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq, and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency.
"While IS has been vanquished from the territory it once held, the group still has the ability to launch devastating individual attacks," said The New Arab's James Brownsell. "In Iraq, particularly, we are today seeing a repeat of the same sort of social divisions, sectarianism and corruption that provided such fuel for IS recruitment five years ago. A regrouping, rebranding and return of IS simply cannot be ruled out."
The US military has warned the group could stage a comeback if the military and counter-terrorism pressure on it is eased.
"They are dispersed and disaggregated, but there is leadership, there are fighters there, there are facilitators there," said General Joseph Votel, the US CENTCOM chief overseeing US troops in the Middle East.