U.S. official says troop withdrawal from Syria has started

American armoured vehicles at a US post near the town of Manbij in northern Syria. AP

American armoured vehicles at a US post near the town of Manbij in northern Syria. AP

The US-led coalition against Islamic State has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria, its spokesman said on Friday, affirming the start of a pullout that has been clouded by mixed messages from US officials.

Russia, which has deployed forces into Syria in support of the Damascus government, said on Friday it had the impression that the United States wanted to stay despite the announced withdrawal of USA troops, RIA news agency reported. He said the US will not discuss a specific timeline, locations or troop movements out of concern for operational security.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a convoy of about 10 armoured vehicles and some trucks pulled out from the north-eastern town of Rmeilan on Thursday night and crossed the border into Iraq.

Friday's announcement signalled the first such withdrawal since the president's announcement, Rahman said.

President Donald Trump confirmed a Syria withdrawal Sunday, but shifted slightly on the timing, saying "we won't be finally pulled out until [the Islamic State] is gone".

The news follows weeks of confusion over Donald Trump's plans for U.S. withdrawal from the country.

However, with many of Trump's hawkish security and defence advisers opposed to the move, the U.S. president could renege on his promise to end America's military presence in Syria, as he abruptly did a year ago.

The official, who asked not to be named, told Anadolu Agency the removal of "some of the equipment" had begun.

Mr Trump's shock announcement on December 19 that he was withdrawing American troops from Syria alarmed United States allies and prompted the resignation of his defence secretary Jim Mattis.

Washington's top diplomat was speaking at a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shukry on the third leg of a key Middle East tour.

Turkey dismissed that condition, and Pompeo said the withdrawal would continue.

"President Trump has made the decision to bring our troops home from Syria. We will decide on its timing and we will not receive permission from anyone". "The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement", he said, seemingly referring to the battle against ISIS and the future of the Kurdish fighters in Syria.

Turkish media are also reporting of divisions within Turkey's military over the launching of a military operation into Syria in winter and before the full withdrawal of US forces.

News of the first steps of a withdrawal come as the U.S.is negotiating with Turkey about guaranteeing protections for USA -allied Kurdish fighters.

In this Saturday, March 31, 2018 file photo, a convoy of USA troops drive along a road leading to the front line with Turkish-backed fighters, in Manbij, north Syria.

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