U.S. military removes some equipment from Syria

U.S. military removes some equipment from Syria

The United States has started the "deliberate withdrawal" process of its forces from Syria, US military officials confirmed on Friday, but they refused to provide any details on exactly what troops and equipment were being moved.

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.

This follows U.S. President Donald Trump's recent remark last week that Iran "can do what they want" in Syria.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton said on Friday talks between the US military and its Turkish counterparts on the Kurds and Syria will continue next week, in the hopes of producing results both countries accept.

The US-led coalition, which also includes countries such as France and Britain, was formed in mid-2014 to counter the expansion of the Islamic State group after it proclaimed its self-styled "caliphate". Military planners are still working on the basis that all troops will be withdrawn from Syria.

Air strikes and special forces have played key roles in efforts to claw back the territory lost to ISIS.

"The Americans have a right to make decisions that are in their country's security and national interests", said Ilham Ahmed, who co-chairs the USA -backed Syrian Democratic Council in northeast Syria.

A Kurdish-led group, the Syrian Democratic Forces, is now flushing the jihadists from the last pockets of land they control in the Euphrates River Valley.

Bolton's comments were widely seen as backtracking on Trump's announcement, including by Turkey which described them as "unacceptable".

Confirmation of the first withdrawals comes amid confusion over plans to implement Trump's pullout order and threats from Turkey to attack Kurdish fighters, who have been America's partners on the ground in the war against the Islamic State group in Syria.

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.

On an unannounced visit to troops stationed near the Syrian border Friday morning, Turkey's defense minister Hulusi Akar reiterated Ankara is "determined" to fight Kurdish militias it considers terrorists and said military preparations were ongoing. He spoke before the announcement on the US withdrawal and did not address it.

But observers have stressed that the announcement of the withdrawal was having the same impact in reshuffling the cards of the conflict as the withdrawal itself.

"The damage is done", said Fabrice Balanche, a geographer and Syria expert.

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