U.S. military begins withdrawal from Syria

U.S. military begins withdrawal from Syria

The U.S. -backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are still fighting the last remnants of the Islamic State's self-declared caliphate in Syria, having pushed IS fighters out of their strong-hold of Hajin, in Syria's Middle Euphrates River valley, and liberating other nearby towns in the past couple of weeks.

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

"CJTF-OIR has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria", spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan told the AFP news agency in a statement, referring to the US-led anti-Islamic State group (IS) force.

On Thursday, Turkey said it would launch an offensive against the YPG even if the USA delayed the withdrawal of its troops.

Witnesses on the ground told the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights they saw 10 armored vehicles, and other equipment, roll out from a USA base in Rmeilan in Hassakeh province and head toward neighboring Iraq. "Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements".

President Donald Trump's announcement last month that he had chose to withdraw 2,000 USA troops stunned allies that have joined Washington in the battle against Islamic State in Syria.

On an unannounced visit to troops stationed near the Syrian border Friday morning, Turkey's defense minister Hulusi Akar reiterated Ankara is "determined" to fight Kurdish militias it considers terrorists and said military preparations were ongoing.

On Sunday, National Security Adviser John Bolton set out stringent conditions for the proposed withdrawal, saying the defense of allies must first be assured.

Questions have swirled around the withdrawal order since Trump made the unexpected announcement last month.

"Obviously when there is a political solution, we will withdraw", he said without elaborating.

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Trump's decision to withdraw all of the 2,000 U.S. troops from the war-torn country prompted shockwaves among USA senior officials and United States allies in December.

The White House may not have yet publicly altered its criteria for withdrawal, but certainly something has changed.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed back on reports the administration was contradicting itself Thursday on a trip to Cairo, Egypt, saying "there's no contradiction whatsoever".

The planned withdrawal of USA forces and possible repercussions adds to the turmoil in a region embroiled in a seven-year-old civil war that has displaced millions and killed at least 400,000 through 2016, according to the most recent United Nations estimate.

When Trump ordered the US pullout on December 19, he declared victory over ISIS and said, "Our boys, our young women, our men, they're all coming back, and they're coming back now".

It also marked the culmination of years of criticism by Trump over Washington's role in foreign wars.

Zakharova said Moscow has not seen public statements laying out the USA strategy in Syria and so can not be sure that the U.S.is serious about leaving.

"Whether they pull out or not, we must do whatever is necessary against an organisation that poses a threat to our national security". "We remain committed to the complete dismantling of ISIS - the ISIS threat - and the ongoing fight against radical Islamism in all of its forms", he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Bolton of making "a very serious mistake" with the demand.

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