Led coalition says Syria withdrawal has begun

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The US military has started moving non-essential equipment out of Syria, but it is not withdrawing troops for now, a defence official said Friday as the Pentagon sought to clarify an earlier statement. Washington, however, said that it would not disclose a timeline for withdrawing its troops, and pledged that the US-led worldwide coalition's fight against terrorism would continue. The observatory reported that a convoy of United States armored vehicles was the first of the pullout, and was seen leaving the town of Rmeilan into neighboring Iraq.

"This is the first such pullout of American forces since the U.S. president's announcement" of a military withdrawal from Syria last month, he said. But the peace and stability of areas USA forces withdraw from "must be guaranteed", she added.

Turkey's defense minister on Friday pledged to wage a campaign against a USA -backed Syrian Kurdish militia, sharpening focus on a potential conflict the United States has sought to prevent. It also led to major criticism that the US was abandoning its local Kurdish allies amid Turkish threats of an imminent attack.

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The start of the drawdown coincided with a Middle East tour by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who insisted in Cairo on Thursday that the withdrawal would go ahead despite widespread criticism.

"These have been folks that have fought with us and it's important that we do everything we can to ensure that those folks that fought with us are protected", Pompeo said of the Kurds while visiting Irbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, after talks in Baghdad.

They have also argued that it would further allow Damascus ally Iran to extend its influence across Syria and potentially threaten Israel. A USA troop pullout leaves the Kurds exposed to Turkish attacks from one side, and Syrian government troops on the other.

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"When the time and place comes, the terrorists here will also be buried in the ditches and trenches they have dug", the minister said in southern Sanliurfa province. "However, we will confirm that there has been no redeployment of military personnel from Syria to date".

Since Trump's announcement, senior members of his administration including Bolton and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo have frustrated Turkey by setting more specific conditions on what Trump initially suggested would be a quick withdrawal.

Russian news agency Interfax quoted Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Kremlin's foreign ministry, as saying in Moscow on Friday that it seemed like the United States "is looking for a reason to stay", the Times pointed out.

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