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NO SPECIFIC TIMELINES GIVEN

US Army announces start of big Syria withdrawal

WASHINGTON, January 12, 2019

The US military said on Friday that it had begun withdrawing troops from Syria, initiating a drawdown that has blindsided allies and sparked a scramble for control of the areas that American troops will leave, reported Washington Post.
 
US forces have “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,” read a statement from the US-led coalition. 
 
“Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements.” Defence Department officials said that initial withdrawals would be limited to equipment, and that no troops had yet departed.
 
President Trump’s December 19 announcement that he was moving to disentangle some 2,000 US troops from Syria’s complex battlefield sparked fears that the move might undo efforts to defeat the Islamic State’s final remnants in Syria.
 
It also marked the culmination of years of criticism from Trump over Washington’s role in foreign wars. In public statements, he had repeatedly suggested that he wanted to bring American troops home.
 
But following a backlash from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and the resignation of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, Trump said the troops would be withdrawn “slowly.”
 
Extending the timeline further, national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday that the pullout was conditional on the defeat of the last remnants of the Islamic State and guarantees from Turkey that it would not attack Kurdish forces aligned with the US, reported Washington Post.
 
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made clear this week that he would not agree to those terms and lashed out at Trump’s aide. “It is not possible for us to swallow the message Bolton gave,” Erdogan said.
 
While Trump initially said US troops will be coming home “now,” he took to Twitter on January 7 to say that “we will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!”
 
Speaking in Cairo on Thursday, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo tried to dispel confusion, saying the US would continue to fight Islamic State as it withdraws and that “the United States will use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot, and work through the UN-led process to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people.”
 
Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton have both visited the Middle East in the past week to talk with and reassure allies, and both have angered Turkey by saying that the US would protect the Kurdish fighters that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to attack, reported Bloomberg. 
 
Erdogan snubbed Bolton when he visited Ankara earlier this week, instead giving a political speech that criticized the national security adviser.
 
Turkey’s top military commanders were on the Turkish-Syrian border to inspect troops that have been massing there in preparation for an operation against the YPG, as America’s Kurdish allies in Syria are known, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Friday.
 
PENTAGON IN TALKS WITH TURKEY
 
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.” But Erdogan has indicated that’s not his understanding.
 
Pompeo confirmed Wednesday that US troops would withdraw from the country, but he did not give a timeline. He said US officials were still in discussions with Turkey on ensuring the safety of Kurdish forces. 
 
A US official familiar with the drawdown plan said that all military personnel were expected to leave Syria in 60 to 90 days. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive plans.
 
A spokesman for the National Security Council, Garrett Marquis, said Bolton and other senior US officials conveyed to Turkish officials a set of principles for the US withdrawal, including opposition to any mistreatment of forces that fought alongside US troops in Syria.
 
In an interview on Friday, Bolton told radio host Hugh Hewitt that Erdogan had promised Trump he would not harm the Kurds. Bolton said, “I assume that the Turkish military will try and comply with what President Erdogan committed to President Trump.”
 
“These discussions are continuing, and hopefully we can elaborate on it,” he added. 
 
KURDS SEEK RUSSIAN HELP
 
Fearing a Turkish attack, Kurdish officials have turned to Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. They are hoping that Moscow can broker a deal under which the Syrian government would fill any power vacuum left by the US withdrawal, and in the process, head off a Turkish incursion.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said sources in Syria’s northeastern province of Hasakah reported the departure of about 10 vehicles from a military base in the town of Rmelan late Thursday. 
 
Separately, the group also published a dash-cam video appearing to show dozens more US trucks traveling along the road to Kobane, a town on the Turkish border that became the site of one of the US-led coalition’s most celebrated early battles against the Islamic State. 
 
That report could not be independently confirmed, and it was unclear whether the movement indicated a drawdown or was just a planned rotation. 



Tags: Russia | Syria | Turkey | US army | kurds |

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