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US starts withdrawing supplies, but not troops, from Syria

US starts withdrawing supplies, but not troops, from Syria

The distinctive feature of the US military campaign in Syria is its partnership with the Kurds and Arabs who were willing to act as American proxies by fighting the Islamic State group without USA troops having to take the lead combat role.

US Colonel Sean Ryan, a coalition spokesman, said the coalition "has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria". The two sides are trying to reach agreement about Kurdish fighters allied with the United States against Islamic State forces in Syria.

President Donald Trump confirmed a Syria withdrawal Sunday, but shifted slightly on the timing, saying "we won't be finally pulled out until [the Islamic State] is gone".

"That includes planning for the moving of people and equipment, preparation of facilities to accept retrograde equipment", the official said, noting that no troops had been withdrawn. If there changes to that, such as leaving troops in eastern and southern Syria, Trump would have to approve those specific details, the official said.

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

The decision sent shockwaves through the White House, causing Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign in protest.

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Representatives of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a military coalition dominated by Kurdish fighters, declined to comment Friday, suggesting instead that the USA military should explain its plans. However, Ankara asked for more time and for postponing the start of joint patrols in Idlib due to its inability to provide security guarantees.

"We will very soon mobilize to eliminate the terrorist organization in Syria", Erdogan said.

But Bolton said Friday during a radio interview that talks are ongoing between the US military and Turkey regarding the Kurdish forces that have battled IS. But in the weeks since he gave the order, and the Pentagon began to implement it, Trump himself and members of his administration have delivered mixed messages about when the withdrawal may actually occur.

The challenge for the United States will be to strike a deal with Turkey's government that ensures the YPG militia, that was so invaluable to Washington over the past handful of years, is protected when the withdrawal is complete.

Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar reviews an honor guard as he arrives for a meeting with the commanders of military units on Syrian border in Sanliurfa, southeastern Turkey, Jan. 11, 2019. Trump has asserted that the IS group in Syria is defeated, but others have said a continued USA military presence is necessary to prevent a resurgence of the group.

Relations between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies have been strained over USA backing for the Kurdish YPG, which Turkey views as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) waging a decades-long insurgency on Turkish soil.