US-led coalition says it has started Syria withdrawal
The US-led coalition against Islamic State has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria, a spokesman said on Friday, indicating the start of a US pullout that has been clouded by mixed messages from Washington, Trend reports citing Reuters.
US President Donald Trump’s announcement last month that he had decided to withdraw 2,000 US troops stunned allies that have joined Washington in the battle against Islamic State in Syria. Senior US officials were shocked too, among them Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who quit in protest.
The coalition “has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria. Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements,” Colonel Sean Ryan said.
Russia, which has deployed forces into Syria in support of the Damascus government, said it had the impression that the United States wanted to stay despite the announced withdrawal of US troops, RIA news agency reported.
Residents near border crossings that are typically used by US forces going in and out of Syria from Iraq said they had seen no obvious or large-scale movement of US ground forces on Friday.
The US 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.
On the one hand, Turkey aims to pursue a campaign against Kurdish forces that have allied 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.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested on Tuesday that protecting Washington’s Kurdish allies would be a pre-condition of the US withdrawal. That drew a rebuke from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan who called his comments “a serious mistake”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been touring the Middle East this week to reassure allies of Washington’s commitment to regional security, said on Thursday the withdrawal would not be scuppered despite the Turkish threats.
The Kurdish groups that control the north have turned to Moscow and Damascus in the hope of striking a political deal that will stave off Turkey and shield their autonomy in the north.