Withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria begins

The U.S. military has begun the process of withdrawing troops from Syria, a U.S. defense official confirmed to CBS News on Friday, saying it was expected to take between 90 and 120 days.

There are some 2,000 USA troops stationed across northeastern Syria.

President Donald Trump announced last month the decision to withdraw 2,000 USA troops who have deployed to Syria in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, which have spearheaded the fight against the IS group.

The withdrawal began with shipments of military equipment, US defence officials said.

The official told CBS News senior national security correspondent David Martin that equipment had begun moving out earlier this week.

Witnesses on the ground told the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights they saw 10 armored vehicles, and other equipment, roll out from a USA base in Rmeilan in Hassakeh province and head toward neighboring Iraq.

The phone call came during Pompeo's nine-nation tour of the Middle East, which is aimed at reassuring allies following U.S. President Donald Trump's withdrawal decision from Syria.

Critics of Trump's decision, including within his own Republican party, have said a precipitous withdrawal would shatter U.S. policy in Syria and allow IS to rebuild.

His announcement, which came after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was criticised even within his own camp and is already having major repercussions on the almost eight-year-old conflict.

A female healthcare worker who was kidnapped by the PKK terrorist group in June 2013 and was taken to several places including Syria where she received medical education from foreigners revealed the terrible conditions women face in the terror group's camps after surrendering to Turkish security forces.

USA forces' vehicles and structures are seen on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of Manbij on December 26, 2018.

United States national security adviser John Bolton suggested on Tuesday that protecting Washington's Kurdish allies would be a precondition of the USA withdrawal. The spokesman added that, to protect security, the coalition would not provide details on troop movements. If not, the Trump administration would be accused of abandoning an ally to a grim fate.

Regarding the SDF's future, the Kurdish researcher said the Syrian government will probably depend on the Kurdish fighters to maintain local security in northern Syria by enlisting them within the regular forces.

Turkish forces have been deploying for weeks along the Syrian border.

Turkey already occupies and effectively runs local affairs in vast territories in northwestern Syria, including Afrin which came under an intense Turkish military campaign previous year that resulted in thousands of deaths and displacement of some 160,000 locals as Erdogan promised to give the region back to the "rightful owners, Arabs". Much of the force is made up of Kurdish fighters, who are also part of the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units or YPG, which has been linked to the PKK, a Kurdish terror group that has waged a decades-long insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

  • Jon Douglas