Us-led coali­tion Starts with­draw­ing from Syria

Trump’s an­nounce­ment last month that he had de­cided to with­draw US troops there stunned al­lies who have joined Washington in the bat­tle against ISIS in Syria.

The Sunday Guardian - - WORLD - RODI SAID & PHIL STE­WART QAMISHLI, SYRIA/WASHINGTON REUTERS

The Us-led coali­tion bat­tling Is­lamic State added to con­fu­sion sur­round­ing the US with­drawal from Syria on Fri­day by say­ing it had started the pull­out process, but of­fi­cials later clar­i­fied that only equip­ment, not troops, were be­ing with­drawn.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s an­nounce­ment last month that he had de­cided to with­draw the 2,000 US troops there stunned al­lies who have joined Washington in the bat­tle against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in Syria.

Se­nior US of­fi­cials were shocked too, among them De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis, who quit in protest.

US Colonel Sean Ryan, a coali­tion spokesman, said 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,” Ryan said.

After me­dia reports sug­gest­ing the de­par­ture of US forces had be­gun, the Pen­tagon later said no troops had yet with­drawn and stressed that the bat­tle against Is­lamic State was con­tin­u­ing as Us-backed forces try to cap­ture the group’s last re­main­ing pock­ets of ter­ri­tory in Syria.

“We will con­firm that there has been no re­de­ploy­ment of mil­i­tary per­son­nel from Syria to date,” said Navy Com­man­der Sean Robert­son, a Pen­tagon spokesman.

US of­fi­cials, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity, con­firmed that equip­ment was be­ing moved out of Syria, a sign that de­spite mixed mes­sages from Washington prepa­ra­tions for a with­drawal of troops was pro­ceed­ing apace. Robert­son, in his state­ment, said the coali­tion had car­ried out “lo­gis­ti­cal mea­sures” to sup­port a with­drawal but did not en­ter into de­tails. “The with­drawal is based on op­er­a­tional con­di­tions on the ground, in­clud­ing con­ver­sa­tion with our al­lies and part­ners, and is not be sub­ject to an ar­bi­trary time­line,” he said.

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. Sep­a­rately, Syr­ian state news agency SANA said Is­raeli war­planes fired a num­ber of mis­siles to­ward the Da­m­as­cus area on Fri­day, trig­ger­ing Syr­ian air de­fenses that shot down most of them.

“The re­sults of the ag­gres­sion so far were limited to a strike on one of the ware­houses at Da­m­as­cus air­port,” SANA quoted a mil­i­tary source as say­ing.

The US decision has in­jected new uncer­tainty into the eight-year-long Syr­ian war and spurred 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 pre­con­di­tion 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 on Thurs­day said the with­drawal would not be scup­pered de­spite the Turk­ish threats.

REUTERS

Pro­test­ers wear­ing yel­low vests take part in a demon­stra­tion by the “yel­low vests” move­ment near the Arc de Tri­om­phe in Paris, France, on Satur­day. Paris po­lice also fired wa­ter can­non and tear gas to re­pel yel­low vest demon­stra­tors in the ninth straight week­end of protests against French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s eco­nomic reforms.

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