United States official says troop withdrawal from Syria has started

Donald Trump announced last month that 2,000 US troops would be withdrawn

The U.S. military says it has started pulling equipment, but not troops, out of Syria as a first step in meeting President Donald Trump's demand for a complete military withdrawal.

In a Sunday-night tweet, Trump said his government was starting the "long overdue pullout" from Syria while hitting the "little remaining" Islamic State "territorial caliphate" and would attack again from a nearby existing base if the jihadist group regroups.

Trump's decision to remove troops from Syria sent shockwaves through the embattled region and led to the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Over recent weeks, senior United States officials have offered confusing and contradictory accounts of the terms and speed with which the United States is leaving.

"We are not withdrawing troops at this stage", an unidentified U.S. defense official said.

Trump's decision to leave Syria, which he initially said would be rapid but later slowed down, shocked USA allies and angered the Kurds in Syria, who are vulnerable to attack by Turkey. Russia, the Syrian government's most vital ally, would be happy to see the USA pull out entirely of the war-torn country, where it has military bases and a significant troop presence.

USA troops have been involved in the Syrian conflict since 2014.

He spoke before the announcement on the US withdrawal and did not address it.

The U.S. force in Syria has "begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria", said Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the for Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve.

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While speaking to reporters Friday, a spokesperson for Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said establishing dialogue is vital to maintaining peace.The spokesperson also urged the U.S.to hand over its territory to Assad amid threats from Turkey of a possible attack on Kurds in the region.

In the past 24 hours, US forces have withdrawn 10 vehicles and 150 personnel from the Rmelan military base, one of the first installations the USA -led coalition established in Syria in 2014, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

U.S. troops have begun withdrawing from Syria, compounding weeks of confusion over Donald Trump's policy in the Middle East and raising fears over the fate of America's Kurdish allies.

America's operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the country were to continue during the withdrawal process.

So far, senior defense officials have declined to provide a timeline of when troops might start coming home. Turkish military has previously entered Syria in an apparent effort to drive Kurdish forces away from Turkey's borders.

Turkey views the US-backed YPG Syrian Kurdish militia as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a 34-year insurgency in Turkey for Kurdish political and cultural rights, mostly in southeastern areas near Syria. 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.

"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.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also offered reassurance for the safety of the Kurds.

The U.S. announcement that Mr. Trump's ordered withdrawal is underway might be enough to convince Turkey to hold fire against America's Kurdish battleground allies, for a while, but Erdogan still wants to go after them, and he could make good on his threats - even on a small scale - at any time.

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