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US military begins to remove equipment from Syria

The US is preparing to withdraw forces Syria [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 January, 2019

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The US planned withdrawal from Syria appears to be underway.

The US has started to remove military equipment from Syria, a defence official told AFP on Thursday, after President Donald Trump announced a withdrawal from the country.

"I can confirm the movement of equipment from Syria," an official said. "For security reasons, I am not going to provide further details at this time."

Trump surprised security analysts in December when he announced the withdrawal of some 2,000 American troops from Syria. 

The move led to the resignation of his then defence chief Jim Mattis, and the concern of some US allies.

The US has walked back to some degree on Trump's promise of an immediate withdrawal, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been sent on a tour of the Middle East to put forward the case for a Syria pull-out to Washington's allies. 

CNN reported the removal of equipment in recent days, quoting an administration official with direct knowledge of the operation as saying it signalled the beginning of US withdrawal from the Middle Eastern country.

It was not clear what cargo was transported outside the country, or from which part of Syria the withdrawal took place.

Most US troops in Syria are situated in the country's north, supporting Arab-Kurdish militias - the Syrian Democratic Forces - in their fight against IS.

The CNN report added that officials 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 will now not be immediate, withdrawing equipment is a means of showing progress towards this goal, it added.

National Security Adviser John Bolton set out stringent conditions for the proposed withdrawal, saying the defence 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 Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

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

Turkey has also signalled it might take part in military operations in northern Syria, with our without a US withdrawal.

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