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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

US soldier killed in Syria as Trump says he wants troop withdrawal 'very soon'

The US Defense Department confirmed on Friday that one US soldier was killed by a roadside bomb attack in Syria that also killed another coalition personnel and wounded five others.

Earlier on Friday, the US Central Command announced that “two Coalition personnel were killed and five were wounded by an improvised explosive device in Syria at approximately 9 pm GMT March 29”.

The US government did not reveal the identity of the casualties or the those behind the attack, pending an investigation.

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Read more: Bomb kills two US-led coalition troops in Syria

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Faysal Itani, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri center, saw three plausible scenarios behind the attack as more information began to emerge about the location and actors on the ground.

“If this is a suicide bombing against a US/Syria Democratic forces position in Shaddadi [NorthEast Syria], it’s almost certainly an ISIL action, though it is surprising they have not claimed it yet,” Mr Itani told The National,

But if it is ISIL, he said it would not be a significant event “but merely an indicator of the insurgent warfare the group will likely be waging in the eastern Syria area for the foreseeable future following the collapse of the caliphate”.

The second scenario Mr Itani said would point out to an Iranian led-action.

“There will inevitably be Iranian-led violence against US troops and their local allies the longer the US stays in Syria, but it seems a bit early for this seeing as it’s not quite clear how long the United States is staying,” Mr Itani said.

Iran backed proxies are notoriously known for using IEDs in the Iraq war. However, “if we find out Iran is killing US soldiers in Syria, then with this team in the White House, one could expect Iranian personnel to begin dying in regime-held Syria.”

The third, less-likely possibility is a Turkish proxy led action. Mr Itani said if the attack is in Manbij, and that could bring in Syrian rebel elements waging war against the Kurdish back forces into the picture, or ISIL forces present near the are.

A Turkish-proxy led attack would also escalate tension between Ankara and Washington.

The attack came hours after Donald Trump speech in Ohio where he said US troops would be leaving Syria “very soon.”

Speaking at a rally about job creation and infrastructure in Ohio, Mr Trump diverted to foreign policy. "We'll be coming out of Syria very soon. Let the other people take care of it now,” he said.

“We're going to have 100 per cent of the [ISIL] caliphate, as they call it, sometimes referred to as land. We're taking it all back quickly, quickly.”

There are about 2,000 US troops deployed in Syria to assist a coalition of local militias in countering ISIL.

Mr Trump's announcement was news for the president's team. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the department was unaware of such a decision.

The Washington Post reported in mid-March that Mr Trump had asked Saudi Arabia’s King Salman for $4 billion in stabilisation aid to hasten the US exit from Syria, but it is unclear if such a deal ever materialised. US officials told the newspaper that they “have convinced Mr Trump that the US military cannot remove its troops from northern Syria in part because of Iran”.

A senior official said “convincing arguments have been made that some bad entity is going to be there ... that seems to have carried the day for the time being”.