The US-led military coalition in Syria has started pulling out troops, according to spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan cited by AFP.
“CJTF-OIR has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,” referring to Operation Inherent Resolve. “Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements,” he said.
Furthermore, AFP cited the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which claimed that that the US-led coalition had started scaling down its presence at Rmeilan airfield in the notheastern province of Hasakeh.
“On Thursday [January 10th], some American forces withdrew from the Rmeilan military base in Hasakeh province,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based monitoring organisation, said.
“This is the first such pullout of American forces since the US president’s announcement” of a full troop withdrawal from Syria on December 19th, he said.
Colonel Sean Ryan’s remarks came after CNN published a story citing an anonymous US defense official who claimed that some ground equipment had already been withdrawn from Syria.
“’Some cargo has already moved,’ the official told CNN.
Due to security concerns, the official would not describe exactly what the cargo was or whether it had been moved out by aircraft or ground vehicles. The official also would not say what part of Syria the equipment was in, although it’s widely expected the drawdown will begin in northern Syria.”
Senior Officials such as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House National Security Adviser John Bolton have refused to put a timeline on the withdrawal.
However, according to CNN, “the Defense Department wants to show progress to Trump, and these withdrawals are a way to do it. Earlier this week, the Pentagon said in a statement 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.’”
Earlier on January 10th, the Middle East Eye, which is a British media outlet, posted a report citing an unnamed Turkish official regarding a proposal by Bolton regarding US troops withdrawal from a position near the Iraqi and Jordanian border.
Reportedly, the proposal was a five-point document, which proposes a negotiated solution addressing “Turkish security concerns about the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian Kurdish militia which Ankara accuses of links to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) but which has played a leading role as a US ally in the ground campaign against IS.”
It also reiterated that the US withdrawal would be “deliberate and orderly.”
The biggest emphasis of the proposal fell on guaranteeing the safety of the YPG following the US withdrawal.
The five points in the proposal were reportedly as follows:
- The withdrawal of its anti-IS forces in northeastern Syria would happen in a deliberate, orderly and strong manner;
- The US, committed itself to defeating the remnants of IS and continuing to damage IS targets throughout the withdrawal period;
- The US declared that it wants a negotiated solution to Turkish security concerns with regard to the YPG;
- The US would pursue the withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces from Syria and a political solution in Syria;
- The US made clear that the release of captured IS militants – described as “foreign terrorists” by the US official – held by the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces is “unacceptable”.
Whether the “non-paper proposal” is real and factual has not been confirmed by neither the Turkish or US sides.
Several days earlier, on January 7th, the New York Times published a piece by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In it, the Turkish president claims that “Trump is right on Syria. Turkey can get the job done,” claiming that there is no victory for the terrorists. He said that the US withdrawal is the right move, but it must be thought out carefully and thoroughly.
According to Erdogan, “a military victory against the terrorist group is a mere first step,” giving the premature declaration of victory in Iraq’s case. “The international community cannot afford to make the same mistake again today,” he wrote.
“Turkey proposes a comprehensive strategy to eliminate the root causes of radicalization. We want to ensure that citizens do not feel disconnected from government, terrorist groups do not get to prey on the grievances of local communities and ordinary people can count on a stable future.”