By Safvan Allahverdi
The U.S. on Thursday downplayed a recent deal allowing Daesh terrorists safe passage from Syria’s Raqqa city, instead urging all sides to seek a “political solutions”.
"With respect to all of that, we continue to encourage all parties to seek political solutions and we continue to work with the SDF because our focus is to defeat ISIS [Daesh]" Pentagon chief spokesperson Dana White told Anadolu Agency at a press briefing when asked to comment on Turkey’s criticism of the U.S. stance on the deal.
The BBC reported Monday that the deal was struck between Daesh and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed force largely comprised of PKK/PYD terrorists.
The PKK/PYD is the Syrian branch of the PKK, which has waged a terror campaign against Turkey for 33 years, leading to the deaths of more than 40,000 people.
After speaking to many of those involved in the evacuation, the British broadcaster said a huge convoy consisting of around 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 Daesh vehicles left Raqqa for Daesh-controlled territory to the southeast.
The report said Daesh also withdrew at least 10 vehicles loaded with arms and ammunition and the fighters included foreigners alongside Iraqis and Syrians.
Describing the agreement as "a grave mistake," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag criticized the U.S. attitude toward the agreement.
Bozdag earlier Thursday said the terrorist groups could not have possibly made such an agreement without the knowledge of the U.S.
But the Pentagon on Tuesday defended the deal, which allowed hundreds of Daesh terrorists to escape Raqqa, calling this part of a “local solution to a local issue,” namely the siege of Daesh’s de facto capital in Syria.
Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon claimed it aimed to provide civilians and families “an opportunity to leave the city and to allow the tribal leaders an opportunity to reconcile and reintegrate Syrian men who had been under ISIS [Daesh] control during its brutal three-year regime.”
Pahon denied that any representatives of the U.S.-led coalition against Daesh participated in the withdrawal negotiations although they were “present at the discussions”.
When asked whether Secretary of Defense James Mattis was informed about the agreement, White said she did not want to speak on that.
Turning to a question about the total number of the American troops in some specific countries, Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, who was also with White during the briefing, said there are 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, 5,262 in Iraq and 500 in Syria.
However, Army Maj. Gen. James Jarrard earlier in the month initially put the number of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria at 4,000, a figure far greater than the official count.
When asked to affirm the 4,000 figure, Jarrard appeared to be caught off guard and claimed he "misspoke."