US withdrawal from Syria has begun, defense official says

US pullout from Syria begins amid confusion over Pentagon timetable

Recent reports have indicated the USA is considering leaving some troops in place at the al-Tanf base in southern Syria, which is seen as a key bulwark against Iran.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a United Kingdom based war monitor, reported earlier that the US-led coalition in Syria had started scaling down its presence at Rmeilan airfield in the Hasakeh province of northeastern Syria.

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

The US-led military coalition in Syria has begun pulling out troops, a spokesman said on Friday without elaborating on locations or timetables.

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.

US troops have been involved in Syria's war since 2014 when the first elite force arrived in the country to advise Kurdish-led fighters who were involved in battles against the Islamic State group.

"The Americans have a right to make decisions that are in their country's security and national interests", said Ilham Ahmed, who co-chairs the US -backed Syrian Democratic Council in northeast Syria.

Residents near border-crossing points typically used by USA forces moving in and out of Syria from Iraq told Reuters they had seen no obvious or large-scale movements following Friday's announcement.

The U.S. -led coalition against Islamic State has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria, the start of a U.S. pullout that has been clouded by mixed messages from Washington.

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The U.S. and Turkey have been allies for more than six decades, but in recent years their relationship has been repeatedly strained by disputes.

"There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal", the national security adviser told reporters.

But another source close to Kurdish military officials in Syria told VOA it appeared the US military is in the process of relocating equipment and personnel within Syria.

"That includes planning for the moving of people and equipment, preparation of facilities to accept retrograde equipment", the official said, noting that no troops had been withdrawn.

Russia, which has deployed forces into Syria in support of the Damascus regime, said it had the impression that the United States wanted to stay despite the announced withdrawal of USA troops, RIA news agency reported. A USA troop pullout leaves the Kurds exposed to Turkish attacks from one side, and Syrian government troops on the other. US support for a Syrian-led Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units that Turkey considers a foe is the source of one rift. Trump has asserted that the IS group in Syria is defeated, but others have said a continued US military presence is necessary to prevent a resurgence of the group.

US troops are still working with a partner known as the Syrian Democratic Forces to stamp out the last IS holdouts in the Middle Euphrates River Valley near the Iraqi border.

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

What's next: Bolton will likely be at the Pentagon for a regularly scheduled morning meeting with Shanahan and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday.

When Trump ordered the US pullout on December 19, he declared victory over ISIS and said, "Our boys, our young women, our men, they're all coming back, and they're coming back now".

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