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Confusion over US pullout from Syria
January 13, 2019
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QAMISHLI: The US-led coalition battling Daesh 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by saying it had started the pullout process, but officials later clarified that only equipment, not troops, were being withdrawn.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 Daesh militants in Syria.

Senior US officials were shocked too, among them Defence 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After media reports suggesting the departure of US forces had begun, the Pentagon later said no troops had yet withdrawn and stressed that the battle against Daesh was continuing as US-backed forces try to capture the group’s last remaining pockets of territory in Syria.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.

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 U.S. withdrawal. That drew a rebuke from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan who called his comments “a serious mistake.”

Turkey loaded tanks and armoured vehicles onto trucks on Saturday and dispatched the convoy to the Turkish province of Hatay on the Syrian border, the Demiroren news agency said.

It was the second day of reinforcements of the Turkish military presence on the border near the northern Syrian province of Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in Syria.

On Friday, a Turkish security source said the Turkish army had been rotating forces in and out of the region, and declined to say whether the latest movement was in preparation for an operation inside Idlib province itself.

Earlier on Saturday, the Turkish defence minister, chief of general staff and the intelligence agency head visited border military units and discussed “measures to establish peace and stability in the region,” the ministry said in a statement.


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