With­drawal from Syria has be­gun, says U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cial

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World - PHILIP ISSA AND ZEINA KARAM

BAGH­DAD — After days of con­flict­ing state­ments about a time­line for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s decision to with­draw Amer­i­can forces from Syria, a U.S. de­fence of­fi­cial said Fri­day the process has be­gun with the re­moval of some mil­i­tary cargo.

The of­fi­cial said the move­ment of equip­ment is part of what the mil­i­tary calls a “de­lib­er­ate with­drawal” from Syria, where some 2,000 troops have been work­ing with a coali­tion of Syr­ian Kur­dish and Arab fight­ers to defeat the rem­nants of the Is­lamic State group.

The of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss de­tails that have not yet been pub­licly an­nounced, pro­vided no num­bers, but said the equip­ment with­drawal is un­der­way and that an un­spec­i­fied num­ber of ad­di­tional U.S. troops have been brought into Syria to as­sist with the process, in­clud­ing by pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional se­cu­rity.

Hours ear­lier, Col. Sean Ryan, spokesper­son for the U.S.-led coali­tion fight­ing the Is­lamic State group, said “the process of our de­lib­er­ate with­drawal from Syria” has started. He said the U.S. would not dis­cuss a spe­cific time­line, lo­ca­tions or troop move­ments out of con­cern for op­er­a­tional se­cu­rity.

There has been con­fu­sion over plans to im­ple­ment Trump’s pull­out order and threats from Tur­key to at­tack the Kur­dish fight­ers, whom Ankara views as ter­ror­ists be­cause of their ties to in­sur­gents within Tur­key.

Ear­lier this week, the U.S. National Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John Bolton said Amer­i­can troops will not leave north­east­ern Syria un­til the IS is de­feated and Amer­i­can-al­lied Kur­dish fight­ers are pro­tected, sig­nalling a slow­down in Trump’s ini­tial order for a rapid with­drawal.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, which mon­i­tors the con­flict in Syria through a net­work of ac­tivists on the ground, said the with­drawal be­gan Thurs­day night. It said a con­voy of about 10 ar­moured ve­hi­cles, in ad­di­tion to some trucks, pulled out from Syria’s north­east­ern town of Rmeilan into Iraq.

A se­nior Kur­dish politi­cian said the Kurds are aware of the U.S. be­gin­ning the with­drawal, de­scrib­ing it as “Amer­ica’s decision.”

There are 2,000 Amer­i­can troops in Syria. Trump’s abrupt decision in De­cem­ber to pull them out, declar­ing in a tweet the defeat of IS, sent shock waves across the re­gion and prompted a flurry of crit­i­cism from some of his gen­er­als.

HUSSEIN MALLA THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

A U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said that the process of re­mov­ing equip­ment from Syria has be­gun.

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