US begins Syria pullout

Baghdad: After days of back and forth over US President Donald Trump’s decision to pullout American troops from Syria, a US military official said Friday the process of withdrawal has begun, declining to comment on specific timetables or movements. Col Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, said “the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria” has started. “Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements,” the Baghdad-based official said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. There were no other details, and it was not immediately clear how many vehicles or whether any troop units had withdrawn.

Confirmation of the first withdrawals comes amid confusion over plans to implement Trump’s pullout order and threats from Turkey to attack the Kurds, who have been America’s partners on the ground in the war against the Islamic State group in Syria. There are 2,000 American troops in Syria. Trump’s abrupt decision in December to pull them, declaring in a tweet the defeat of IS, sent shockwaves across the region and a flurry of criticism from some of his generals and national security advisers, and led to the resignation of US Defense Minister James Mattis and the top US envoy to the anti-IS coalition. It also led to major criticism that the US was abandoning its local Kurdish allies amid Turkish threats of an imminent attack.

“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. A US troop pullout leaves the Kurds exposed to Turkish attacks from one side, and Syrian government troops on the other. The withdrawal benefits Syrian President Bashar Assad and his international backers, Russia and Iran, who are primed to move into the region to fill a vacuum left behind by the Americans.

US troops have been involved in Syria’s war since 2014 when the first elite force arrived in the country to advise Kurdish-led fighters who were involved in battles against the Islamic State group. Meanwhile, Reggie Singh, the brother of Indian-origin police officer Ronil “Ron” Singh killed in California and described a “national hero” by Donald Trump, has said his family fully supported the President’s efforts to bolster border security so that others do not experience what they have been going through since the tragedy. During a high-profile visit to the southern border state of Texas on Thursday to push for his controversial US-Mexico border wall plan, Trump attended a border patrol roundtable at McAllen, where Reggie Singh was seated next to the president.

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