Published: Mon, January 14, 2019
World Media | By Cesar Oliver

Led coalition says Syria withdrawal has begun

Led coalition says Syria withdrawal has begun

The U.S. decision to withdraw its forces from Syria, first announced by President Donald Trump last month, has caused confusion among U.S. allies and partners in the fight against Islamic State militants.

A spokesperson for the USA -led coalition against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) said the withdrawal had gone ahead despite mixed messages from the White House over the fate of the 2,000 troops operating in the country.

The withdrawal began with shipments of military equipment, US defense officials said.

Separately, the head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, confirmed that the USA had started withdrawing troops from the airfield base near the town of Rmeilan in northeast Syria on Thursday evening.

The US-led coalition has several other bases across northeastern Syria, as well as in neighbouring Iraq, where Trump has said his forces would remain.

Mr Bolton's conditions for a withdrawal included the defeat of ISIS in Syria and guarantees for the safety of Washington's Kurdish allies, who have been threatened with an imminent offensive by Turkey.

The decision sent shockwaves through the White House, causing Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign in protest.

On December 19, Donald Trump said he had ordered the withdrawal of all USA forces in Syria, which are believed to number around 2,000.

More than 2,000 USA troops are now deployed in Syria.

"It is not possible for us to swallow the message Bolton gave from Israel", Erdogan said in the Turkish Parliament after refusing to meet with Bolton on his visit to Turkey.

US national security advisor John Bolton said Friday that talks between USA and Turkish military officials will continue next week.

A senior Kurdish politician said the Kurds are aware of the US beginning its withdraw process, describing it as "America's decision". It also led to major criticism that the USA was abandoning its local Kurdish allies amid Turkish threats of an imminent attack.

US airstrikes against IS in Syria began in September 2014, and ground troops moved in the following year in small numbers.

Earlier this week, Bolton called security assurances for the US -backed Kurdish forces a necessary condition for the withdrawal of USA forces from Syria.

"These have been folks that have fought with us and it's important that we do everything we can to ensure that those folks that fought with us are protected", Pompeo said of the Kurds while visiting Erbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, after talks in Baghdad.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu went so far on Wednesday as to say that if the USA withdrawal from Syria was delayed, "then we will put this decision into practice", suggesting Turkey could go after the Kurds in short order. Trump has asserted that the IS group in Syria is defeated, but others have said a continued USA military presence is necessary to prevent a resurgence of the group.

The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said the move had "dangerous implications" for stability, would "negatively affect the campaign against terrorism" and create "a political and military vacuum".

A US army vehicle supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces in Hajin, eastern Syria, on December 15, 2018.

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

The withdrawal follows the drawdown ordered by President Donald Trump after he proclaimed the defeat of ISIS in a tweet December 19.

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