US withdrawing gear from Syria, but not troops


The reportedly beginning the process of withdrawing troops from Syria.

The official said the movement of equipment is part of what the military calls the start of a "deliberate withdrawal" from Syria, where some 2,000 troops have been working with a coalition for Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters to defeat the remnants of the Islamic State group.

The removal of the equipment in recent days was first reported by CNN, which quoted an administration official with direct knowledge of the operation as saying it signaled the beginning of USA withdrawal from the Middle Eastern country. "For security reasons, I am not going to provide further details at this time".

The massive, Wasp-class vessel, capable of carrying over 1,800 troops and/or dozens of armoured vehicles in its 13,600 square-foot well deck, was sent toward Syria along with other US Navy vessels to support the expected withdrawal, according to the newspaper.

Top U.S. officials were shocked too, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who quit in protest.

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Israel has reportedly lobbied for the Trump administration to reconsider pulling troops out of al-Tanf, and according to the London-based Middle East Eye online portal, the U.S. withdrawal plan would leave soldiers there.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group reported that the coalition had started scaling down its presence at Rmeilan airfield in the northeastern province of Hasakeh.

The administration's strategy toward Syria has appeared muddled since Trump's abrupt announcement last month of a US exit, a statement that included no details but sparked the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the top American envoy to the global coalition to defeat Islamic State. Brett McGurk, the president's special envoy for the USA coalition in Syria, and Dana White, a Defence Department spokeswoman, also resigned. Turkey views the Kurdish YPG militia, which forms the core of the SDF force, as a national security threat.

Meanwhile, US National Security Adviser John Bolton on Sunday outlined conditions for US troop departure from Syria, including a provision that Turkey should guarantee the safety of YPG Kurdish militants in Syria. The comments drew the ire of Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who vowed not to agree to such concessions.

Though Trump has said he wants a withdrawal to be coordinated, gradual and "prudent", observers have stressed that his announcement was having the same impact as a withdrawal itself.

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Earlier this week, Bolton called security assurances for the USA -backed Kurdish forces a necessary condition for the withdrawal of US forces from Syria.

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Giving a subsequent speech about broader US policy in the Middle East at the American University in Cairo, Pompeo said "now is the time" to bring America's forces out of Syria. "We remain committed to the complete dismantling of ISIS - the ISIS threat - and the ongoing fight against radical Islamism in all of its forms", he said.

This comes just three-weeks after President Trump announced he is bringing troops home.

Pompeo has also sought to reassure the Kurds that they will be safe after USA troops withdraw from the country, The Associated Press reported.

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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".