Conflicting reports emerge over USA troop withdrawal from Syria

US soldiers gather for a brief during a combined joint patrol rehearsal in Manbij Syria

US soldiers gather for a brief during a combined joint patrol rehearsal in Manbij Syria

"We are not withdrawing troops at this stage", the official said on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. military command in Baghdad, which is managing the counter-IS campaign in Iraq and Syria, said Friday that it "has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria", adding that, for security reasons, it would not reveal timetables, locations or troop movements.

U.S. forces in northern Syria have fought alongside a Kurdish militia against Islamic State (IS) militants.

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". -Turkish consultations as part of the "deliberate and coordinated" withdrawal of American forces from Syria.

The withdrawal appeared to have begun Thursday night, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria through activists on the ground.

"This is the first such pullout of American forces since the U.S. president's announcement" of a full troop withdrawal from Syria last month, he said.

Trump's decision to withdraw troops has been clouded by mixed messages from Washington since it was abruptly announced last month, catching off guard allies including the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces militia.

Talking to reporters in Abu Dhabi, Mr Pompeo said the U.S. recognised "the Turkish people's right and [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan's right to defend their country from terrorists".

Residents near border-crossing points typically used by USA forces moving in and out of Syria from Iraq told Reuters they had seen no obvious or large-scale movements following Friday's announcement.

But Bolton said Friday during a radio interview that talks are ongoing between the USA military and Turkey regarding the Kurdish forces that have battled IS.

"We also know that those who aren't terrorists, those who were fighting alongside of us for all this time deserve to be protected as well", Pompeo said.

The People's Protection Units (YPG), which have spearheaded ground operations against IS, are a Syrian offshoot of the Kurdish PKK which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

Earlier this week, Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, said American troops will not leave northeastern Syria until the IS group is defeated and American-allied Kurdish fighters are protected, signalling a slowdown in Trump's initial order for a rapid withdrawal.

The speech sought to lay out the Trump administration's strategy for the Middle East and criticised former president Barack Obama, without naming him, for "fundamental misunderstandings" about the Middle East.

The official provided no numbers, but said the equipment withdrawal is underway and an unspecified number of additional US troops have been brought into Syria to assist with the withdrawal process. He said military preparations were ongoing.

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