United States military begins withdrawal from Syria

Frederick Owens
January 11, 2019

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

The fate of US troops in Syria was further muddled Tuesday when Turkish President Recep Erdogan said Bolton made a "grave mistake" when he demanded Turkey pledge protection of the American supported Kurdish fighters.

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

It said a convoy of about ten armored vehicles, in addition to some trucks, pulled out from Syria's northeastern town of Rmeilan into Iraq.

President Donald Trump and senior defense officials met to discuss the planned Syria troop withdrawal Wednesday, as his national security team continued to send conflicting signals about the planned pullback that has roiled relations with NATO-ally Turkey.

"This is the first such pullout of American forces since the U.S. president's announcement" of a full troop withdrawal from Syria last month, he said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly blasted national security adviser John Bolton Tuesday for saying the USA withdrawal was contingent upon Turkey's pledge not to attack US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria once American troops go home.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is now on a Middle East tour to reassure allies about US plans to withdraw troops from Syria.

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Top diplomats in Russian Federation say that they don't believe the Trump administration will pull its troops out of Syria as President Donald Trump said they would.

A USA official told ABC News that in recent days military equipment has been moved out of Syria into Iraq.

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

The coalition "has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria", he said. But the peace and stability of areas US forces withdraw from "must be guaranteed", she added.

The White House has not yet publicly altered it's most recent criteria, those announced by Bolton a week ago: that ISIS must be defeated and the Kurdish forces' security guaranteed before the American troops all come out. The first of those criteria is unmet, but feasible, as the terror group now holds only a small patch of land in Syria.

On the one hand, Turkey aims to pursue a campaign against Kurdish forces that have partnered with the United States, and on the other the Russia- and Iran-backed Syrian government sees the chance to recover a huge chunk of territory.

The decision has injected new uncertainties into the eight-year long Syrian war and a flurry of contacts over how a resulting security vacuum will be filled across a swathe of northern and eastern Syria where the US forces are stationed. Once Trump announced his intention, Erdogan said Turkey would delay any operation until all USA forces left.

Turkey considers several Kurdish groups - including the People's Protection Units, also known as the YPG - to be terrorist organizations.

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