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Withdrawal of US forces in Syria likely to start in 'weeks,' CENTCOM commander says
ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT (Reuters) - The United States is likely just weeks away from starting the withdrawal of ground troops from Syria ordered by President Donald Trump, the top U.S. commander overseeing American forces in the Middle East said on Sunday.
U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, cautioned that the exact timing would depend on the situation in Syria, where U.S.-backed fighters have launched a final assault against Islamic State enclaves near the Iraqi border.
The U.S. military has already started withdrawing equipment from Syria. Asked whether the withdrawal of America's more than 2,000 troops would begin in days or weeks, Votel said: "Probably weeks. But again, it will all be driven by the situation on the ground."
"In terms of the withdrawal ... I think we're right on track with where we wanted to be," Votel told reporters traveling with him during a trip to the Middle East.
"Moving people is easier than moving equipment and so what we're trying to do right now is again (to) kind of clear out those materials, that equipment, that we do not need."
Trump's surprise announcement in December that he was withdrawing American troops from Syria helped trigger the resignation of his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, and sent U.S. military officials scrambling to construct a withdrawal plan that preserves as many gains as possible.
Hundreds of additional troops have been sent to Syria to facilitate the withdrawal.
U.S. officials have long estimated that the Syria pullout could take until sometime in March or April to execute fully, but have been reluctant to set an exact timeline given hard-to-predict battlefield conditions.
Votel did not speculate about when the drawdown would be completed.
Iraq troops steady
One big question has been whether some U.S. forces in Syria might move to neighboring Iraq, where the United States has more than 5,000 troops helping Baghdad fight Islamic State and prevent the group's resurgence.
Votel said he did not believe the United States would broadly increase overall troop numbers in Iraq. He did leave open the possibility of changing the composition of forces to help the United States keep pressure on the militant group.
Referring to future U.S. troop levels in Iraq, Votel said: "I think it's going to remain more or less steady."
"This isn't just wholesale — 'Everybody in Syria move over to Iraq.' That doesn't make sense," Votel said.
Votel is one of many current and former U.S. officials who have warned of the risk of a resurgence by Islamic State unless the United States and its allies can keep pressure on the group following the U.S. withdrawal. They say Islamic State still has enough leaders, fighters, facilitators and financial resources to fuel a menacing insurgency.
But a clear U.S. plan on how to keep up the pressure has yet to be articulated. It is also unclear whether the United States will be able to satisfy the security concerns in Syria of its NATO ally Turkey without sacrificing the interests of U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters there.
Ankara sees the Kurdish militia as terrorists.
Washington views the Kurdish militia as loyal partners in the fight against Islamic State, whose help will likely continue to be needed to prevent the group's resurgence.
The Pentagon's own internal watchdog released a report last week warning about the risks still posed by Islamic State. It cautioned that, absent sustained pressure, the group would likely resurge in Syria within six to 12 months and retake some limited territory.
A U.N. report seen by Reuters last week estimated there are up to 18,000 Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, including up to 3,000 foreign fighters. It warned the group was interested in attacking aviation and using chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials.
WATCH NEXT: The Final Countdown In Syria?
More than 7,500 boots on display at Fort Bragg this month served as a temporary memorial to service members from all branches who have died since 9/11.
The boots — which had the service members' photos and dates of death — were on display for Fort Bragg's Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's annual Run, Honor and Remember 5k on May 18 and for the 82nd Airborne Division's run that kicked off All American Week.
"It shows the families the service members are still remembered, honored and not forgotten," said Charlotte Watson, program manager of Fort Bragg's Survivor Outreach Services.
After more than a decade of research and development and upwards of $500 million in funding, the Navy finally plans on testing its much-hyped electromagnetic railgun on a surface warship in a major milestone for the beleaguered weapons system, Navy documents reveal.
The Navy's latest Northwest Training and Testing draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Assessment (NWTT EIS/OEIS), first detailed by the Seattle Times on Friday, reveals that " the kinetic energy weapon (commonly referred to as the rail gun) will be tested aboard surface vessels, firing explosive and non-explosive projectiles at air- or sea-based targets."
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Congress fell short ahead of Memorial Day weekend, failing to pass legislation that would provide tax relief for the families of military personnel killed during their service.
Senators unanimously approved a version of the bipartisan Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act Tuesday sending it back to the House of Representatives, where it was tied to a retirement savings bill as an amendment, and passed Thursday.
When it got back to the Senate, the larger piece of legislation failed to pass and make its way to the President Trump's desk.
An NSA cyber weapon is reportedly being used against American cities by the very adversaries it was meant to target
In less than three years after the National Security Agency found itself subject to an unprecedentedly catastrophic hacking episode, one of the agency's most powerful cyber weapons is reportedly being turned against American cities with alarming frequency by the very foreign hackers it was once intended to counter.
The spectacle of hundreds of thousands of motorcycles roaring their way through the streets of Washington, D.C., to Memorial Day events as part of the annual Rolling Thunder veterans tribute will be a thing of the past after this coming weekend.
Former Army Sgt. Artie Muller, a 73-year-old Vietnam veteran and co-founder of Rolling Thunder, said the logistics and costs of staging the event for Memorial Day, which falls on May 27 this year, were getting too out of hand to continue. The ride had become a tradition in D.C. since the first in 1988.
"It's just a lot of money," said the plainspoken Muller, who laced an interview with a few epithets of regret over having to shut down Rolling Thunder.