First US troops leave Syria

First US troops leave Syria

U.S. troops assist Syrian Democratic Forces soldiers to fire a 120mm mortar round at a known ISIS location near Deir ez-Zor province, Syria, Nov. 14, 2018 (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Matthew Crane)

WASHINGTON — U.S. forces in Syria have started a tactical withdrawal from locations east the Euphrates River into Iraq, Pentagon officials said Friday.

According to news reports and Pentagon officials, armored vehicles exited the country in a convoy.

Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, confirmed to reporters that the exodus started.

“Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements,” Ryan said in an email. He called the exit the “deliberate withdrawal from Syria.”

In December, President Trump declared U.S. troops had completed the defeat of ISIS in Syria and would leave that nation within weeks.

That timeline was extended to a few months but not before Defense Secretary James Mattis and others resigned in opposition to the decision. The operative phase now describing the exit is a conditions-based withdrawal.

There are roughly 3,000 U.S. forces in Syria, the bulk being special forces.

On Thursday, John Rood, Pentagon undersecretary for policy, and Lt. Gen. Richard Clarke, director for strategy, plans, and policy for the Joint Staff, briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee on the withdrawal.

News reports indicated that some senators remain skeptical of the withdrawal timetable while others believe the U.S. mission has been accomplished.

Even before the withdrawal began, Russian forces were increasing their presence in northeast Syria, where U.S. troops remain.

Turkey has also underscored its intention to launch military action against Kurds in northern Syria, regardless of the pace and locations of the U.S. military exit.

The U.S. has sought Turkish guarantees of protection for the Kurds, who provide the bulk of ground troops in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition. Turkey rebuffed that request.

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