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US troop withdrawal from Syria has begun, military official confirms

US troop withdrawal from Syria has begun, military official confirms
The US has begun withdrawing its forces from Syria, according to wire reports that cite a spokesman for the US-led military coalition. Earlier, CNN reported that some American hardware had already been removed.

Colonel Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition purportedly formed to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), said in a statement released to the media on Friday that the US had started “the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria.”

US President Donald Trump declared on December 19 that IS has been defeated and there was no more need for American troops to remain in Syria. The troops were deployed without an invitation from Damascus or a mandate from the UN Security Council and were stationed predominantly in the Kurdish-controlled northeastern part of Syria.

The announcement came amid complaints from US ally Turkey, which sees the Kurdish militias – the YPG in particular – as a national threat and vowed to attack them, unless they pull back from the Turkish border.

Sharply contrasting views on Syria’s Kurds have strained relations between Washington and Ankara, driving a wedge between the two NATO allies. The US, which has supplied arms to the Kurds, has repeatedly praised the units in their fight against the Islamic State. Ankara, however, regards the YPG as “terrorists” and an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkey’s foreign minister announced on Thursday that Ankara’s planned operation against the Kurds in northern Syria would not hinge on a US pullout from the region.

The announced withdrawal of US troops however failed to materialize immediately. According to a Friday CNN report, some US hardware has been pulled out, but the source would not say how much is gone nor how exactly it has been moved.

Trump’s decision to remove the US military presence from northern Syria was criticized at home and even resulted in then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announcing his resignation. Patrick Shanahan is acting as the Pentagon chief now, having been provisionally promoted from January 1.

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