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President Donald Trump’s promise to pull-out thousands of U.S. troops from the country has upended an already complicated and devastating eight-year war.
The United States-led coalition in Syria created greater confussion on their status Friday by saying it had started the pullout process. Officials later clarified that only equipment, not troops, were being withdrawn.
President Donald Trump's announcement last month that he had decided to withdraw the 2,000 U.S. troops there stunned allies who have joined Washington in the battle against Islamic Stategroup militants in Syria.
Senior U.S. officials were shocked too, among them Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who quit in protest.
U.S. Colonel Sean Ryan, a coalition spokesman, said 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," Ryan said.
After media reports suggesting the departure of U.S. forces had begun, the Pentagon later said no troops had yet withdrawn and stressed that the battle against the IS group was continuing as U.S.-backed forces try to capture the group's last remaining pockets of territory in Syria.
"We will confirm that there has been no redeployment of military personnel from Syria to date," said Navy Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that equipment was being moved out of Syria, a sign that despite mixed messages from Washington preparations for a withdrawal of troops was proceeding.
Robertson, in his statement, said the coalition had carried out "logistical measures" to support a withdrawal but did not enter into details.
"The withdrawal is based on operational conditions on the ground, including a conversation with our allies and partners, and is not be subject to an arbitrary timeline," he said.
Residents near border crossings that are typically used by U.S. forces going in and out of Syria from Iraq said they had seen no obvious or large-scale movement of U.S. ground forces Friday.
Separately, Syrian state news agency SANA said Israeli warplanes fired a number of missiles toward the Damascus area Friday, triggering Syrian air defenses that shot down most of them.
"The results of the aggression so far were limited to a strike on one of the warehouses at Damascus airport," SANA quoted a military source as saying.
The U.S. decision has injected new uncertainty into the eight-year-long Syrian war and spurred a flurry of contacts over how a resulting security vacuum will be filled across a swathe of northern and eastern Syria where the U.S. forces are stationed.
Turkey aims to pursue a campaign against Kurdish forces, particularly the People's Protection Units (YPG) that were key in pushing back against IS group militants.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton suggested Tuesday that protecting Washington's Kurdish allies would be a precondition of the U.S. withdrawal. That drew a rebuke from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan who called his comments "a serious mistake".
Russia, which has deployed forces into Syria in support of the Syrian government, said it had the impression that the United States wanted to stay despite the announced withdrawal of U.S. troops, RIA news agency reported.