U.S. be­gins pullout in Syria

National Post (National Edition) - - WORLD - Raf Sanchez

The United States on Fri­day said it had be­gun the process of with­draw­ing from Syria with the re­moval of “nonessen­tial equip­ment” but will keep troops in the coun­try for now.

The coali­tion against the Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant (ISIL), led by the U.S., said on Fri­day that the mil­i­tary had started the “de­lib­er­ate with­drawal” of the roughly 2,000 Amer­i­can troops in Syria. An of­fi­cial later said only equip­ment was be­ing moved, and that ad­di­tional troops had been brought in to help with the op­er­a­tion.

The state­ments com­pounded weeks of mixed mes­sages since Don­ald Trump promised to end mil­i­tary in­volve­ment in the coun­try, rais­ing fears over the fate of Amer­ica’s Kur­dish al­lies. A con­voy of 10 U.S. mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles was seen leav­ing a base in Hasakah prov­ince in north­east Syria and head­ing to­ward the Iraqi bor­der, ac­cord­ing to the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights.

Trump abruptly an­nounced the U.S. with­drawal from Syria on Dec. 19, blind­sid­ing U.S. al­lies and trig­ger­ing a con­fronta­tion within his own ad­min­is­tra­tion, which led to the res­ig­na­tion of his de­fence sec­re­tary.

Over re­cent weeks, se­nior U.S. of­fi­cials have of­fered con­fus­ing and con­tra­dic­tory ac­counts of the terms and speed with which the U.S. is leav­ing.

Trump ini­tially sig­nalled a rapid with­drawal from Syria and U.S. of­fi­cials said they ex­pected troops to be out within 30 days.

That time­line was then ex­tended to sev­eral months in the face of a re­volt by na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials and Trump’s own Repub­li­can al­lies.

John Bolton, Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, then said on Sun­day that the U.S. would not leave un­til it had as­sur­ances that Turkey would not as­sault the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF), the Kur­dish-led group that pro­vided the ground troops to fight ISIL. Bolton’s com­ments pro­voked a fu­ri­ous re­sponse from Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, Turkey’s pres­i­dent, who ac­cused him of mak­ing “a grave mis­take” by set­ting con­di­tions for Turkey. Turkey has threat­ened to move ahead with the as­sault against the SDF, which it con­sid­ers part of a Kur­dish ter­ror­ist group, re­gard­less of whether the U.S. slows its with­drawal.

Mike Pom­peo, the U.S. sec­re­tary of state, said the U.S. with­drawal would not be af­fected by Er­do­gan’s threats against the Kurds, but at the same time said the U.S. would work to en­sure the Kurds’ safety. “These have been folks that have fought with us and it’s im­por­tant that we do ev­ery­thing we can to en­sure that those folks that fought with us are pro­tected,” he said.

“Er­do­gan has made com­mit­ments; he un­der­stands that — I think he uses the lan­guage — he talks about (how) he has no beef with the Kurds.”

fi­nal date for full with­drawal.

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