U.S. Military Moving Equipment Out of Syria as Pullout Begins

U.S. Military Moving Equipment Out of Syria as Pullout Begins

The AP, citing a USA defense official, also reported that the pullout thus far has involved only equipment and not the estimated 2,000 US troops believed to be in Syria.

The delay has restricted Turkey's ability to launch an offensive against the YPG, a group of Kurdish fighters it considers terrorists, but who served as allies to the USA coalition to defeat Islamic State.

"We are not withdrawing troops at this stage", the official said on condition of anonymity.

The withdrawal began Thursday night, according to the UK-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The US-led coalition has several other bases across northeastern Syria, as well as in neighbouring Iraq, where Trump has said his forces would remain.

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Bolton, in a radio interview, said he, President Donald Trump, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo understood Turkey had committed "not to harm the Kurds who had fought with us against ISIS".

The military is carrying out the withdrawal under an order signed by former Defense Secretary James Mattis just before he left office December 31.

On December 19, Donald Trump said he had ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. forces in Syria, which are believed to number around 2,000.

After initially tweeting about the decision to bring back USA troops "now", Trump this week said "we will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!"

"We will confirm that there has been no redeployment of military personnel from Syria to date", said Navy Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman.

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The announcement is fueling concern about how quickly the US will abandon its Kurdish allies, amid contradictory statements recently by Trump administration officials on an exit timetable. On Dec. 23, he said there would be a "slow & highly coordinated pullout of USA troops from the area". Following the announcement, he was forced to reiterate the U.S.'s commitment to its more substantial troop to neighboring Iraq, where the US -led coalition is also fighting ISIS.

A US army vehicle supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces in Hajin, eastern Syria, on December 15, 2018. Much of the force is made up of Kurdish fighters, who are also part of the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units or YPG, which has been linked to the PKK, a Kurdish terror group that has waged a decades-long insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

The U.S. withdrawal has presented the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and its Russian and Iranian allies with an opportunity to recover territory held by the Kurds.

"When the time and place comes, the terrorists here will also be buried in the ditches and trenches they have dug", the minister said in southern Sanliurfa province. Moscow in particular has seized the initiative across the Middle East to the detriment of the U.S.'s interests, and has urged talks between the Kurdish forces and Damascus.

This move signals the beginning of the drawdown ordered by President Trump.

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