The U.S. military is going ahead with plans for a withdraw of all American troops from Syria despite a shifting timetable, and a U.S. -Turkey rift that might delay the pullout, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
"CJTF-OIR has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria", spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan said in a statement, using the acronym for the Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve.
In a statement, the Pentagon said that, "Out of concern for operational security, we will not be discussing specific troop movements or timelines, but we do expect to provide a periodic update on progress regarding percentages of equipment removed from Syria".
The withdrawal appeared to have begun Thursday night, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria through activists on the ground.
Confirmation of the first withdrawals comes amid confusion over plans to implement President Donald 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 ISIS in Syria. Trump made his decision to pull USA troops out of Syria after holding a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who promised that Turkey would play a lead role in bringing stability to the region.
On Sunday, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said American troops would not leave northeastern Syria until ISIS is defeated and the American-allied Kurdish fighters are protected.
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The announcement that USA troops would leave the civil war-racked country - where they have been deployed to assist in the multinational fight against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group - shocked global partners and American politicians alike.
But the Baghdad-based official did not give details and it is unclear how many vehicles or troop units had been withdrawn.
Military planners calculate the Pentagon might have to send hundreds of additional forces into Syria on a variety of missions in order to safely withdraw more than 2,000 United States ground forces there, according to two USA officials. Top U.S. officials were shocked too, among them Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who quit in protest.
The decision has injected new uncertainties into the eight-year long Syrian war and a flurry of contacts over how a resulting security vacuum will be filled across a swathe of northern and eastern Syria where the US forces are stationed.
The US president concluded: "Our troops are coming home!"
The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said the move had "dangerous implications" for stability, would "negatively affect the campaign against terrorism" and create "a political and military vacuum".