Published: Mon, January 14, 2019
Worldwide | By Angelina Lucas

U.S. begins Syria withdrawal, amid uncertainty over strategy

U.S. begins Syria withdrawal, amid uncertainty over strategy

The US-led coalition in Syria has begun withdrawing its troops, a spokesman said Friday, less than a month after US President Donald Trump made his shock announcement. Once the troops are gone, the USA will have ended three years of organizing, arming, advising and providing air cover for Syrian, Kurdish and Arab fighters in an open-ended campaign devised by the Obama administration to deal the [ISIS] group a lasting defeat.

Stressing that the US has not yet begun pulling out its troops, a second Pentagon official revealed that the USA military had begun a number of preparations for a deliberate withdrawal, noting, "That includes planning for the moving of people and equipment, preparation of facilities to accept retrograde equipment".

Hours earlier, Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the USA -led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, said "the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria" has started.

Earlier this week, however, United States national security adviser John Bolton said the USA would expect guarantees that the Kurds would be protected after American troops leave the area.

Also citing unnamed Pentagon officials, NYT corrected its Syria withdrawal report Friday, from suggesting US troops had begun leaving to acknowledging that only "planning has begun".

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had earlier reported that the coalition had started scaling down its presence at Rmeilan airfield in the notheastern province of Hasakeh. It said a convoy of about 10 armored vehicles, in addition to some trucks, pulled out from Syria's northeastern town of Rmeilan into Iraq. US support for a Syrian-led Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units that Turkey considers a foe is the source of one rift.

The beginning of the drawdown coincided with a visit to the Middle East by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who insisted in Cairo Thursday that the withdrawal would go ahead despite widespread criticism.

Ankara has been infuriated by the USA support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the YPG under the pretext of fighting against Daesh. The plan hinges on Turkish cooperation to secure a swathe of northeast Syria as the United States departs.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis had resigned immediately after Trump's claim in December that the Islamic State group had been defeated. Many are also anxious that the Kurdish forces, which spearheaded the fight against the "Islamic State" militants with USA backing, would be left vulnerable to an imminent attack by Turkey.

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Bolton, on a visit to the region this week, said the US pullout was conditional on defeating IS and guarantees that the Kurds would be protected.

Trump's hasty announcement in December of a US exit from the war-torn country has caused confusion among allies and adversaries alike, and it also led to the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

"These have been folks that have fought with us and it's important that we do everything we can to ensure that those folks that fought with us are protected", Pompeo said of the Kurds while visiting Irbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, after talks in Baghdad.

Trump also refused to directly answer a question about the timeline of the USA withdrawal from Syria, saying only that it will happen "over a period of time".

Kurdish officials, meanwhile, have demanded clarifications from the USA over its intentions.

Maria Zakharova, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said it was important for Syrian Kurds and the Syrian government to start talking to each other in light of the USA withdrawal plans.

They have also argued that it would further allow Damascus ally Iran to extend its influence across Syria and potentially threaten Israel. Syria's deputy foreign minister said on Wednesday he was optimistic about renewed dialogue with the Kurds.

Speaking to reporters in Moscow Friday, she said it appears to Moscow that the U.S.

"I can not share your confidence that they are leaving there because we never saw an official strategy", she added. President Donald trump argued that the decision by the USA victory over the militants of the terrorist organization Islamic state in Syria.

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