United States official says troop withdrawal from Syria has started

United States official says troop withdrawal from Syria has started

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a convoy of about 10 armoured vehicles and some trucks pulled out from the north-eastern town of Rmeilan on Thursday night and crossed the border into Iraq. "Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements".

Very complicated: Bolduc, who served in the Pentagon during the United States troop withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, said the logistical challenge of getting out of Syria will be less taxing, but the Pentagon still must discern important questions - such as the size of the pullout, and the weapons and equipment that will be turned over.

The U.S. has started "the process of deliberate withdrawal from Syria".

U.S. President Donald Trump announced via Twitter on December 19 that all U.S. troops in Syria would come home.

Mr Trump abruptly announced the United States withdrawal from Syria on December 19, blindsiding USA allies and triggering a confrontation within the U.S. administration that led to the resignation of his defence secretary.

Trump's decision to leave Syria, which he initially said would be rapid but later slowed down, shocked USA allies and angered the Kurds in Syria, who are vulnerable to attack by Turkey.

But the US pullout risks leaving the Kurds at the mercy of Turkey, which views the fighters as terrorists.

U.S. 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.

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Pompeo suggested on Monday that Erdogan and Trump had a firm agreement about the Kurds, telling CNBC that "the Turks would ensure that the folks that we'd fought with, that had assisted us in the counter-ISIS campaign would be protected".

Kurdish officials, meanwhile, have demanded clarifications from the USA over its intentions. A US troop pullout leaves the Kurds exposed to Turkish attacks from one side, and Syrian government troops on the other.

Opponents of the move claim that the pullout will allow Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime to expand their influence in the region.

Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters on Friday that it appears to Moscow that the U.S. Ankara considers the presence of well-armed Kurdish forces near its southern border to be a national security threat.

"When the time and place comes, the terrorists here will also be buried in the ditches and trenches they have dug", he said.

Zakharova also said Russian Federation remains committed to an agreement it had struck with Turkey to stabilize a de-escalation zone in Syria's Idlib province, but Moscow is anxious by an increase in the number of ceasefire violations there. In response to questions, she said, "I can not share your confidence that they are leaving there because we never saw an official strategy".

FILE - In this Wednesday, April 4, 2018 file photo, a US soldier, left, sits on an armored vehicle behind a sand barrier at a newly installed position near the front line between the U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council and the Turkish-backed fighters, in Manbij, north Syria.

Karam reported from Beirut.