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US ends aid for northwest Syria

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The Trump administration is reportedly pulling assistance from northwest Syria as it seeks to set the U.S. up for a swift withdrawal from the country once the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is defeated, reported The Hill (US).

CBS News reported Friday that the U.S. will stop providing tens of millions of dollars to stabilize areas of northwest Syria that have been cleared of ISIS control, a decision made following an interagency process in recent weeks.

That funding supported efforts to counter violent extremism, strengthen independent society and advance education in the region, among other things, according to the report.

The funding cutoff in northwest Syria makes it the first part of the war-torn country that the U.S. is officially disengaging from, though Washington will still provide humanitarian aid.

"$200 million of stabilization assistance for Syria is currently under review at the request of the President," a State Department official told CBS News.

"Distinct from that amount, U.S. assistance for programs in northwest Syria are being freed up to provide potential increased support for priorities in northeast Syria, as will be determined by the outcome of the ongoing assistance review, including the D-ISIS campaign and stabilization efforts."

The decision came after President Trump ordered a review of U.S. assistance to Syria, and officials determined that the aid to the northwestern part of Syria would have little impact on the long-term future of the country, CBS News reported.

Some of the money could be shifted to other things, according to CBS News, but those decisions have not been finalized.

Trump announced in March that the U.S. would withdraw from Syria "very soon." But his top national security advisers have cautioned against pulling out of the country too quickly, because of concerns that ISIS could crop back up in areas where militants had previously been booted.

ISIS has lost about 95 percent of the territory that it once held, but is holding on fiercely to its remaining pockets of land. Most of Syria is under the control of the Syrian government, although rebel groups have maintained enclaves in the country, as have terrorist groups like al Qaeda and al Nusra.

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The French army on Saturday launched six batteries of artillery in Deir az-Zour, northeastern Syria, suggesting they are fighting alongside the US-backed Kurdish-majority Syrian Demoncratic Forces (SDF) against the Islamic State (IS) group in the troubled province, reported The New Arab (UK).

Sources close to the SDF said that troops launched the artillery from the village of al-Baghouz Fawqani which they had seized a week earlier from IS control.

French forces in Syria are currently deployed in Manbij, Hasakah, Ayn Issa and Raqqa, alongside the SDF.

A French military delegation visited a site west of Raqqa in northeast of Syria, reportedly with the aim of setting up a security camp in the area.

Raqqa, once the de facto capital of the IS "caliphate", was liberated from the group in October 2017.

Local sources said that French soldiers came from Manbij and will assist with the training of local intelligence officers.

French troops were originally deployed in northern Syria on April 4 to the US base in Manbij, and reportedly intend to establish their own military base in the region.

Earlier this month, the US-backed SDF resumed their offensive to seize remaining parts of Deir az-Zour controlled by Islamic State militants.

The army had paused the battle after Turkey launched an offensive in January against the Kurdish Afrin region in northwestern Syria.

Syrian fighters, backed by US airstrikes and troops, have dealt heavy blows to IS but the militants still hold a swathe of land along the desert frontier with Iraq. As they lose more territory of their self-proclaimed "caliphate", militants are expected to revert to guerrilla tactics.

As a result of the pause in the offensive, IS stepped up attacks in the region over recent weeks.

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Tags: u.s., syria, france
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