Mark Esper
Mark EsperReuters

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Saturday night that all of the nearly 1,000 troops withdrawing from northern Syria are expected to move to western Iraq to continue the campaign against Islamic State (ISIS) and “to help defend Iraq.”

“The US withdrawal continues apace from northeastern Syria... we’re talking weeks not days,” Esper told reporters en route to the Middle East, according to Reuters.

“The current game plan is for those forces to re-position into western Iraq,” he added, noting that the forces would number about a thousand.

US President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced earlier this month that he would be withdrawing troops from northern Syria.

Three days later, Turkish soldiers launched a cross-border assault against Kurdish fighters which are allies of the US but are viewed by Ankara as terrorists.

Last Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to a 120-hour ceasefire in northern Syria following a meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence. As part of the agreement Turkey will suspend its operations to allow the Kurdish YPG forces to withdraw from the designated safe zone.

Commenting on the ceasefire agreement later in the day, Trump said that ISIS in Syria “is totally under control and we’re continuing to capture more.”