The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) group has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria, its spokesman said on Friday, affirming the start of a pullout that has been clouded by mixed messages from US officials.
President Donald Trump announced last month the decision to withdraw 2,000 US troops who have deployed to Syria in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, which have spearheaded the fight against the IS group.
The coalition “has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria. Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements,” Colonel Sean Ryan said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria through a network of activists on the ground, said the withdrawal began Thursday night. It said a convoy of about 10 armored vehicles, in addition to some trucks, pulled out from Syria’s northeastern town of Rmeilan into Iraq.
Washington’s Kurdish allies in northern Syria fear the withdrawal will open the way for Turkey to mount a long-threatened offensive against their area. Turkey views the Kurdish YPG militia, which forms the core of the SDF force, as a national security threat.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested on Tuesday that protecting the Kurds would be a pre-condition of the US withdrawal, drawing a rebuke from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who called his comments “a serious mistake”.
But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the withdrawal would not be scuppered despite the Turkish threats.