US President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, said Sunday that the US military withdrawal from northeastern Syria is conditioned on defeating the remnants of the Islamic State group, and on Turkey assuring the safety of Kurdish fighters allied with the United States.
British special forces are the only military personnel understood to be operating in Syria alongside the US.
American ground troops first became involved in Syria in autumn 2015 when then-President Barack Obama sent in a small number of special forces to train and advise local Kurdish fighters who were fighting IS.
In a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bolton said that "the defence of Israel and other friends in the region is absolutely assured" and that the United States would "take care of those who have fought with us against Isis and other terrorist groups".
The move shocked USA allies and American defence officials alike, with U.S. defence secretary Jim Mattis and a top United States official in the fight against IS, Brett McGurk, resigning soon after.
On January 4, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that the U.S. troops withdrawal from Syria has already started.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel would continue to confront Iran's military activities in Syria. That could very well cause an extremely large boom in the region, one which will eventually entangle the USA and Russian Federation and maybe even China.
"I never said we are doing it that quickly".
"There is absolutely no change in the USA position against the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and absolutely no change in our position that any use of chemical weapons would be met by a very strong response, as we've done twice before", Bolton told reporters.
Bolton, on a trip to Israel and Turkey, said he would stress in talks with Turkish officials, including President Tayyip Erdogan, that Kurdish forces must be protected.
Separately on Friday, the US-led coalition said it carried out 469 strikes in Syria between Dec 16 and Dec 29 that destroyed almost 300 fighting positions, more than 150 staging areas, and a number of supply routes, oil lubricant storage facilities and equipment.
In Iraq, where the government declared victory over the group in late 2017, ISIS fighters have launched insurgent attacks, ambushes and kidnappings, and some officials have warned of a possible resurgence of the group, which has long drawn hundreds of foreign fighters to its ranks.
Bolton said Trump "wants the ISIS caliphate destroyed".
Bolton's comments come ahead of a visit to Ankara that's scheduled for Monday.
Bolton said in Israel that the US would pull out only after its troops had rooted out what's left of ISIL in Syria and after the administration had reached an agreement with Turkey to protect Kurdish militias who have fought alongside Americans against the extremists. Ankara regards the YPG an extension of the PKK, a Kurdish group that has waged a 34-year insurgency in Turkey.
'I think they know who their friends are, ' he added.
"We're pulling out of Syria", he said.
America's Kurdish allies in north-east Syria were left feeling exposed as Turkey, which regards them as terrorists, appeared poised to move against them.
The abrupt decision surprised US allies and angered his own national security advisers who disagree with the claim of IS's defeat.
The U.S.is also seeking a "satisfactory disposition" for roughly 800 ISIL prisoners held by the U.S. -backed Syrian opposition, Bolton said, adding talks were ongoing with European and regional partners about the issue.