US official says troop withdrawal from Syria has started

14 January, 2019, 05:45 | Author: Sue Mclaughlin
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"What we're still pursuing in these military to military conversations are assurances and protocols and procedures so that everybody feels comfortable with how this is going to happen".

Earlier on December 19, U.S. President Donald Trump announced an immediate withdrawal of troops from Syria but later said that he did not have a specific time limit for the pullout, signaling to an extension of the presence of U.S. troops on the grounds.

They also did not say what part of Syria it came from, though it is expected the drawdown would begin in the country's north.

That the process of withdrawing from Syria involves driving into Iraq, and the USA troops are all on the side of Syria closest to the Iraq border, it once again raises questions of why the pullout is expected to take months, instead of the few hours such a trip would take.

"We are not withdrawing troops at this stage", one U.S. defence official said.

It is not known exactly what type of equipment has been removed.

Commanders of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), who share close links with top YPG figures, have been reportedly resisting the withdrawal, asserting that Washington should not abandon the YPG, which is often portrayed as the sole power in the fight against Daesh.

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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the coalition had started scaling down its presence at Rmeilan airfield in the Hasakah province in northeastern Syria.

The coalition, which also includes countries such as France and Britain, was formed in mid-2014 to counter ISIS, which had seized swathes of Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a "caliphate".

The battle against die-hard militants in remote areas along the Iraqi-Syrian border and the hunt for ISIS supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the world's most wanted man, could last indefinitely. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is on a tour of the region, has also sought to reassure the Kurds that they will be safe after USA troops withdraw from the country. The comments drew a rebuke from Erdogan, who slammed them as a "serious mistake".

Graham highlighted that Turkey's concern regarding the PKK's Syrian offshoot People's Democratic Units (YPG) elements "must be addressed in a real way to ensure that Turkey's borders are secure and are protected from any threats".

The group has already started reaching out to Damascus and its Russian sponsor.

Critics of Trump's decision, including within his own Republican party, have said a precipitous withdrawal would shatter United States policy in Syria and allow ISIS to rebuild. "The Trump Administration's foreign policy is as deeply flawed in its conception as it is dangerously incompetent in its execution", Schiff, who is the chairperson of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, tweeted.

Since his surprise announcement last month, Trump has stressed any withdrawal would be coordinated, gradual and "prudent". "On the ground, the announcement of the pullout is as if they were already gone", said Fabrice Balanche, a geographer and Syria expert.

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