US troops leave Syria and cross into Iraq where some will stay

Updated 11:33 AM EDT, Mon October 21, 2019
In this frame grab from video provided by Hawar News, ANHA, the Kurdish news agency, residents who are angry over the U.S. withdrawal from Syria hurl potatoes at American military vehicles in the town of Qamishli, northern Syria, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday in Afghanistan that U.S. troops will stay in eastern Turkey to protect Kurdish-held oil fields for at least the coming weeks and that he was discussing options to keep them there. (ANHA via AP)
PHOTO: ANHA/AP
In this frame grab from video provided by Hawar News, ANHA, the Kurdish news agency, residents who are angry over the U.S. withdrawal from Syria hurl potatoes at American military vehicles in the town of Qamishli, northern Syria, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday in Afghanistan that U.S. troops will stay in eastern Turkey to protect Kurdish-held oil fields for at least the coming weeks and that he was discussing options to keep them there. (ANHA via AP)
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(CNN) —  

Hundreds of trucks carrying American troops have crossed into Iraq in a long military convoy Monday, marking the largest withdrawal of US forces from Syria to date.

US personnel, who were fighting the terror group alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, will be mostly repositioned in western Iraq, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, while some will remain temporarily in Syria to protect oil fields from ISIS. It’s an apparent walk back of President Donald Trump’s assertion last week that he would bring all American troops stationed in Syria “back home.”

On Monday, Esper said there had been discussions about keeping US troops in northern Syria for longer but no military plan had yet been presented to the President.

Separately, The New York Times reported that Trump was learning towards keeping a small contingent of about 200 troops in eastern Syria. CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.

A convoy of US military vehicles arrives near the Iraqi Kurdish town of Bardarash after withdrawing from northern Syria.
PHOTO: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images
A convoy of US military vehicles arrives near the Iraqi Kurdish town of Bardarash after withdrawing from northern Syria.

US military vehicles drive on a road after US forces pulled out of their base in northern Syria.
PHOTO: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images
US military vehicles drive on a road after US forces pulled out of their base in northern Syria.

Early Monday morning, CNN filmed American personnel traveling through the dark in hundreds of armored vehicles and SUVs in Qamishli, northern Syria.

The vehicles, many adorned with US flags, were laden with equipment as they drove over a border crossing into Iraq. The convoy was traveling in the direction of Mosul, though it is not clear where their exact destination is.

Nearby, US vehicles were pelted with rotten potatoes and tomatoes by Syrian-Kurdish people. Locals were seen standing in front of armored US vehicles with their hands in the air shouting abuse at the convoy, a video filmed by Kurdish Hawar News Agency (ANHA) showed.

When the hundreds of US troops reach Iraq, which could take several weeks to complete, they will likely be deployed on two missions, Esper said.

“One is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-ISIS mission as we sort through the next steps,” he added.

The US had stationed about 1,000 soldiers in Syria at the start of its offensive against ISIS several years ago.

Kurdish forces leave border town

As US forces continued their withdrawal, Kurdish troops belonging to the SDF evacuated from the key border town of Ras al-Ain as part of a US-brokered ceasefire agreement with Turkey.

SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel said in a statement Sunday that all of the Kurdish-led group’s fighters had left the embattled center.

“We don’t have any more fighters in the city,” the statement said.

The 120-hour ceasefire deal brokered between US Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls for the withdrawal of SDF forces from what Turkey calls a “safe zone” along its border in northeast Syria.