The US military has started moving non-essential equipment out of Syria but it is not withdrawing troops for now, a defense official said Friday as the Pentagon sought to clarify an earlier statement. "Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements", Colonel Sean Ryan said on Friday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which uses a network of frontline activists to monitor the Syrian civil war, reported that roughly 10 US armored vehicles and several trucks pulled out of the northeastern Syria town of Rmelan on Thursday night and crossed into Iraq. 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.
The plans have been put in motion despite recent assurances from National Security Advisor John Bolton that USA forces would remain in Syria until Turkey agreed not to attack America's Kurdish allies.
But following a backlash from Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Trump said the troops would be withdrawn "slowly".
The statement coming a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Cairo defended the withdrawal, insisting it was not a retreat.
A Defense Department spokesperson later said that while equipment was being moved out of Syria, troops were not withdrawing.
"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 during his tour of the Middle East this week, according to the AP.
Moreover, she said that Russian Federation has the impression that the United States wants to stay in Syria, despite recent announcements to the contrary. It also sparked criticisms that the U.S.is pulling out of Syria before ISIS is truly defeated - abandoning America's Kurdish allies in the region, ceding hard-won influence to neighboring Turkey, and rewarding Russia's intervention alongside the Syrian regime.
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But Bolton said Friday during a radio interview that talks are ongoing between the USA military and Turkey regarding the Kurdish forces that have battled IS. Turkey considers the YPG to be part of the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, a separatist group in eastern Turkey which has been labeled a terrorist organization by Turkey, the USA and the European Union.
But shortly after, other witnesses on the ground in Syria reported seeing an influx of Western troops and equipment to parts of Aleppo province in northern Syria.
USA airstrikes against IS in Syria began in September 2014, and ground troops moved in the following year in small numbers.
"When the time and place comes, the terrorists here will also be buried in the ditches and trenches they have dug", he said.
However, with many of Trump's hawkish security and defence advisers opposed to the move, the United States president could renege on his promise to end America's military presence in Syria, as he abruptly did past year.
The U.S. has about 5,200 troops in Iraq to assist its security forces, and Trump has given no indication he intends to withdraw them any time soon.