US official says troop withdrawal from Syria has started

Turkey Stands By Deal To Buy Russian Missiles, Attack Kurds In Syria

Turkey Stands By Deal To Buy Russian Missiles, Attack Kurds In Syria

The US-led coalition against Islamic State has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria, its spokesman said on Friday, affirming the start of a pullout that has been clouded by mixed messages from US officials.

"CJTF-OIR has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria", said Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition, citing the Department of Defense.

"Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements", he said in a statement.

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

The surprise move comes amid conflicting statements over when a withdrawal would begin and at what pace since President Donald Trump abruptly announced the USA would leave last month.

Trump's shock announcement on December 19 that he was withdrawing all 2,000 American troops from the conflict-wracked Middle Eastern country concerned allies and prompted the resignation of his then defense chief Jim Mattis.

Mr Trump's national security adviser John Bolton was also sent to the region this week to reassure Israel, which is equally concerned about the Iranian presence in Syria, and to deter Turkey from launching its threatened offensive against the US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia that led the fight against ISIS in north-east Syria.

Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone on Sunday and "agreed to ensure coordination between their countries' military, diplomatic and other officials to avoid a power vacuum which could result following any abuse of the withdrawal and transition phase in Syria", the Turkish presidency said in a statement. He stressed that the fight against ISIS would continue, but he did no repeat the need for the Kurds to be protected, or mention Bolton's previous vow to curb Iran's presence in Syria.

Turkish media are also reporting of divisions within Turkey's military over the launching of a military operation into Syria in winter and before the full withdrawal of US forces. Russia, the Syrian government's most vital ally, would be happy to see the USA pull out entirely of the war-torn country, where it has military bases and a significant troop presence.

CNN reported earlier that the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has identified ships, aircraft and ground units that will be used in the operation. The latter will no doubt prove the more hard objective to meet.

US troops have been involved in Syria's war since 2014 when the first elite force arrived in the country to advise Kurdish-led fighters who were involved in battles against the Islamic State group.

Over the past years, the relations between Turkey and the United States have been hampered by Ankara's concerns over USA support for the YPG, viewed by the Turkish authorities as an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, listed as a terrorist organisation in the country. Turkey views the Kurdish YPG militia, which forms the core of the SDF force, as a national security threat. If not, the Trump administration would be accused of abandoning an ally to a grim fate.

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