US begins military withdrawal from Syria, officials say

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This Dec. 30, 2018 photo shows a convoy of U.S. military vehicles in Manbij, northern Syria. (AFP Photo)
This Dec. 30, 2018 photo shows a convoy of U.S. military vehicles in Manbij, northern Syria. (AFP Photo)

The U.S. military has removed some equipment from Syria, a defense official confirmed Thursday, following a report that the drawdown ordered by President Donald Trump is now underway.

The Pentagon official, who asked not to be named, said the removal of "some of the equipment" had begun. He declined to elaborate on the type of military equipment involved or where it was removed from due to "security concerns."

The U.S.-led coalition against Daesh terrorist group has started the process of withdrawing from Syria, its spokesman said Friday.

The coalition "has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria. Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements," Colonel Sean Ryan said.

CNN reported earlier that the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has identified ships, aircraft and ground units that will be used in the operation.

Trump's shock announcement on Dec. 19 that he was withdrawing all 2,000 American troops from the conflict-wracked Middle Eastern country concerned allies and prompted the resignation of his then defense chief Jim Mattis.

Since then, however, administration officials appear to have walked back considerably and the current envisaged timetable is unclear.

The removal of the equipment in recent days was first reported by CNN, which quoted an administration official with direct knowledge of the operation as saying it signaled the beginning of U.S. withdrawal from the Middle Eastern country.

The official quoted by CNN would not describe exactly what the cargo was or how it was being transported.

They also did not say what part of Syria it came from, though it is expected the drawdown would begin in the country's north.

The CNN report added that officials it had previously spoken to said the Pentagon wants to signal to the president it is working towards his goals following his withdrawal decision last month.

Though the removal of troops is not on the cards immediately, withdrawing equipment is a means of showing progress towards this goal, it added.

On Sunday, National Security Adviser John Bolton set out stringent conditions for the proposed withdrawal, saying the defense of allies must first be assured.

"We're going to be discussing the president's decision to withdraw, but to do so from northeast Syria in a way that makes sure that ISIS is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again," Bolton said when meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Speaking in Egypt Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed the troop pullout from Syria would go ahead as he urged Middle East nations to forge a common stand against Tehran.

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