The US hasn’t begun withdrawing troops from Syria, the Pentagon said in the military’s most extensive comments yet as questions about President Donald Trump’s timeline and strategy for pulling troops from the eight-year conflict there continue to fuel confusion.
“We have taken a number of logistical measures to support an ordered withdrawal,” Commander Sean Robertson, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement. “For purposes of operational security, we will not discuss specific troop movements or timelines.
“However, we will confirm that there has been no redeployment of military personnel from Syria to date,” Robertson said.
The administration’s strategy towards Syria has appeared muddled since Trump’s abrupt announcement last month of a US exit, a statement that included no details but sparked the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the top American envoy to the global coalition to defeat IS.
“The United States will continue to provide support to the Coalition’s operation in Syria while withdrawing troops in a deliberate and coordinated manner in order to ensure the safety and protection of US forces,” Robertson said in the statement.
“We will continue to work with partners and allies to ensure the enduring defeat of IS by sustaining military gains and promoting regional security and stability.”
The announcement of the withdrawal fuelled questions about the American commitment to eliminate remaining pockets of IS militants as well as the fate of Kurdish forces that have fought alongside the US but that Turkey considers terrorists.
Trump administration officials also have argued that the US needs to stay in Syria to counter Iran’s presence there.
Robertson said the American troops and their allies “continue to pursue IS in the last remaining space they currently influence.”
A Pentagon official who asked not to be identified said that the military has begun to move American equipment out of the country.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely tracks developments in the civil war, said the withdrawal of equipment began on January 10, with a convoy of about 10 armoured vehicles and some trucks moving out of Rmeilan in Syria and relocating to Iraq.
The US has about 2,000 troops in Syria.
While Trump initially said US troops will be coming home “now,” he took to Twitter to say that “we will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight IS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!”
Speaking in Cairo, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo tried to dispel confusion, saying the US would continue to fight IS as it withdraws and that “the United States will use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot, and work through the
UN-led process to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people.”
Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton have both visited the Middle East in the past week to talk with and reassure allies, and both have angered Turkey by saying that the US would protect the Kurdish fighters that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to attack.