US Exit from Syria Starts with Equipment, Not Troops

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The US-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) confirmed on Friday that the military had started the "deliberate withdrawal" of the roughly 2,000 American troops in Syria. Earlier this week, the Pentagon said in a statement that "out of concern for operational security, we will not be discussing specific troop movements or timelines, but we do expect to provide a periodic update on progress regarding percentages of equipment removed from Syria".

The news that a withdrawal had begun was confirmed on Thursday by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in the United Kingdom, which monitors activity in the war-town country through a network of activists.

Confirmation of the first withdrawals comes amid confusion over plans to implement President Donald Trump's pullout order and threats from Turkey to attack the Kurds, who have been America's partners on the ground in the war against ISIS in Syria.

The initial announcement, accompanied by a tweet from Trump declaring the defeat of ISIS, stunned allies and regional partners and led Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign over the president's decision.

Meanwhile, US National Security Adviser John Bolton on Sunday outlined conditions for US troop departure from Syria, including a provision that Turkey should guarantee the safety of YPG Kurdish militants in Syria.

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But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the withdrawal would not be scuppered despite the Turkish threats.

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

After initially tweeting that he would bring back USA troops "now", Mr Trump this week said the USA would "be leaving at a proper pace" while "continuing to fight IS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary".

The official also would not say what part of Syria the equipment was in, although it's widely expected the drawdown will begin in northern Syria.

A senior Kurdish politician says the Kurds are aware of the USA beginning to withdraw from Syria, describing it as "America's decision".

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Mr Pompeo is now on a regional tour to assure Middle East allies of Washington's continued commitment to countering extremists militants in the region and the threat posed by Iran.

Earlier this week, Bolton called security assurances for the USA -backed Kurdish forces a necessary condition for the withdrawal of US forces from Syria.

Earlier this week in Irbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, he said it's important that the United States "do everything we can to ensure that those folks that fought with us are protected".

Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar visited Turkish troops along the Syrian border Friday, and vowed to eliminate the Kurdish forces in Syria.

But Bolton said Friday during a radio interview that talks are ongoing between the USA military and Turkey regarding the Kurdish forces that have battled IS.

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His easy mission will be to persuade these nations that the Trump administration remains committed to neutralizing Iran. Pompeo has stressed throughout his trip to the region that Washington still aims to counter Iranian influence.

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.

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