US troops begin leaving Syria as confusion reigns over withdrawal plan

US troops begin leaving Syria as confusion reigns over withdrawal plan – Independent

Abrupt withdrawal causes confusion among allies in fight against Isis
The US military has begun withdrawing troops from Syria as part of a planned pullout triggered by President Trump last month.

Mr Trump announced the “full and immediate” withdrawal of US forces from the country in December, surprising Washington’s allies in the fight against Isis and raising the prospect of renewed conflict in the country’s northeast.

Senior US officials have since indicated that the withdrawal would be much slower than first expected and that is has already started
Colonel Sean Ryan, a spokesperson for the anti-Isis coalition, said on Friday that the US had “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria”.
“Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements,” he told The Independent.

A convoy of around 10 armoured vehicles was seen leaving from the Syrian town of Rmeilan and heading towards Iraq on Thursday night, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
the troop movements on Friday have added another layer of confusion to the pullout, which has been plagued by criticism from allies and from within Trump’s own administration.

The US has some 2,000 troops in the country who have fought alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces against Isis. Ankara views the SDF as a danger to its security and it claims for its link to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant group in Turkey.

Mr Trump’s decision prompted his defence secretary, Jim Mattis, to resign. Mr Mattis claimed that by leaving Syria so abruptly the US would be abandoning obligations to its Kurdish allies. The group has said a US withdrawal would imperil those gains and leave it open to attack from Turkey.

Earlier this week, White House national security adviser John Bolton appeared to walk back on Mr Trump’s timetable of 30 days for the withdrawal, making the pullout conditional on assurances from Turkey that it would not attack the SDF
We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States,” Mr Bolton said ahead of a trip to Turkey.

But that statement prompted a rebuke from Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who called it a “very serious mistake”, adding that Turkish forces would take action against the group “very soon.”

While US troops were heading for the exit on Friday, Turkey’s defence minister, Hulusi Akar, inspected troops on the Syrian border ahead of the planned military operation in northern Syria.

“Terrorists here will be buried in the trenches they have dug, similar to previous operations, when the time comes,” he said. “Our only target is terrorists. Every rational person knows we do not have any problems with our Kurdish brothers, with whom we have always been very close.”

The US pullout appears to be confusing even its rivals.

Russia’s foreign ministry said on Friday that the US was not serious about withdrawing from Syria, and that Washington “is looking for a reason to stay.”

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