The United States is preparing to rapidly withdraw all 2,000 troops in northeastern Syria as soon as Kurdish and Arab forces drive ISIS from its last enclave, President Trump announced on Wednesday.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than six years after Austin Tice was taken hostage in Syria, the U.S. government is confident that the Marine veteran and journalist is still alive, the State Department’s special envoy for hostage affairs said on Tuesday.

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The Marines recently completed a live-fire exercise in Syria – the one place more hostile to human life than Twentynine-Palms – during which they trained with Syrian rebels backed by the U.S. government, according to U.S. Central Command.

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On Feb. 7, the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS unleashed a torrent of airstrikes and artillery fire in a far-flung area of eastern Syria. The barrage was successful, beating back hundreds of fighters attempting to overrun a position held by coalition forces and their local allies. The action might have gone largely unnoticed — the coalition has, after all, carried out nearly 15,000 airstrikes in Syria — but for one thing: These bombs didn’t fall on ISIS, they killed forces loyal to the Syrian government.

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Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

As far as Russian President Vladimir Putin is concerned, the ISIS militants and the Western-backed rebels who helped flush the terror group from Syria represent the same thing: opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, whose violent response to peaceful protests of his regime in 2011 ignited a civil war that has claimed as many as half a million lives and left much of his country in tatters.

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Army photo by Sgt. Mitchell Ryan

American weapons and equipment used by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against ISIS will need to be returned to the United States once the war is over because they were loaned — not given — to the group, the White House says. But details on when the recovery process will begin, and how it will be executed in a country embroiled in a bloody six-year civil war, remain very murky, raising skepticism among those familiar with the Pentagon’s long history of losing track of lethal machinery it lends to foreign troops.    

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