Syria troop withdrawal under way, says US-led coalition

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The U.S. has started withdrawing military equipment from Syria, an official from the Pentagon confirmed Thursday.

"Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements", Ryan said in a statement to the Associated Press.

A convoy of ten USA military vehicles was seen leaving a base in Hasakah province in northeast Syria and heading towards the Iraqi border, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

It said a convoy of ten armoured vehicles and some trucks had pulled out of Rmeilan, in Syria's north west, into Iraq.

The surprise move comes amid conflicting statements over when a withdrawal would begin and at what pace since President Donald Trump abruptly announced the US would leave last month.

Earlier this week, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton's calls for the protection of the YPG Syrian Kurdish militia as a pre-condition to a U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, causing the president to refuse to meet with the U.S. official.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the withdrawal would not be scuppered despite the Turkish threats.

Last month, Donald Trump said he had ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Syria, where there are believed to be about American 2,000 troops.

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Residents near border-crossing points typically used by US forces moving in and out of Syria from Iraq told Reuters they had seen no obvious or large-scale movements following Friday's announcement.

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.

In this Saturday, March 31, 2018 file photo, a convoy of US troops drive along a road leading to the front line with Turkish-backed fighters, in Manbij, north Syria.

"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.

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

Speaking to reporters in Moscow Friday, she said it appears to Moscow that the U.S. "For security reasons, I am not going to provide further details at this time". The first of those criteria is unmet, but feasible, as the terror group now holds only a small patch of land in Syria.

The Journal reported that to account for shifts in plans, the military is staging personnel and equipment needed for a possible withdrawal, rather than move American forces out.

Regardless, Damascus and the Kurds are seemingly edging closer towards a deal, with Syrian Army troops arriving in Manbij - a city Ankara has openly threatened to target unless Kurdish forces withdraw - just days after Trump pledged to pull the US' 2,000-strong military contingent out of Syria. If not, the Trump administration would be accused of abandoning an ally to a grim fate.

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