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US Bolsters Forces in Region as Syria Withdrawal Begins

12 January 2019
US Bolsters Forces in Region as Syria Withdrawal Begins

Colonel Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State, said the process of removing troops for the country had started.

The US-led military coalition in Syria has begun pulling out troops, a spokesman said on Friday without elaborating on locations or timetables.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which uses a network of frontline activists to monitor the Syrian civil war, reported that roughly 10 USA armored vehicles and several trucks pulled out of the northeastern Syria town of Rmelan on Thursday night and crossed into Iraq.

Some 150 soldiers and 10 armored vehicles, along with some trucks and heavy equipment, left the town and crossed the Iraqi border, he said.

The surprise move comes amid conflicting statements over when a withdrawal would begin and at what pace since President Donald Trump abruptly announced the US would leave last month.

But following a backlash from Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Trump said the troops would be withdrawn "slowly".

National Security Advisor John Bolton appeared to contradict the White House Sunday when he said the USA withdrawal from Syria would not be immediate, but the Pentagon announced Thursday that without receiving any new direction, it's moving forward with the mission. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also sought to reassure the Kurds they will be safe after the US completely pulls out.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details that have not yet been publicly announced, provided no numbers, but said the equipment withdrawal is under way and that an unspecified number of additional US troops have been brought into Syria to assist with the withdrawal process, including troops to provide additional security.

Pompeo suggested on Monday that Erdogan and Trump had a firm agreement about the Kurds, telling CNBC that "the Turks would ensure that the folks that we'd fought with, that had assisted us in the counter-ISIS campaign would be protected".

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied that the administration's conditions-based approach to withdrawing from Syria undermined the intent of Trump's original order.

Pompeo's remarks in Cairo also appeared to contradict Trump's announcement, drawing immediate criticism from Middle East experts as well as officials who served under former USA president Barack Obama.

The official provided no numbers, but said the equipment withdrawal is underway and that an unspecified number of additional US troops have been brought into Syria to assist with the withdrawal process.

Regardless, Damascus and the Kurds are seemingly edging closer towards a deal, with Syrian Army troops arriving in Manbij - a city Ankara has openly threatened to target unless Kurdish forces withdraw - just days after Trump pledged to pull the US' 2,000-strong military contingent out of Syria.

Ahmed spoke to The Associated Press Friday hours after an American official said the process of withdrawing American equipment from Syria has begun.

The U.S. military has a limited network of bases inside Syria.

"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.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that the thousands of Turkish troops amassed along the Syrian border would attack whether the USA is out or not. There are some 2,000 USA troops stationed across northeastern Syria. In response to questions, she said, "I can not share your confidence that they are leaving there because we never saw an official strategy".