Officials have confirmed that U.S. troops have begun withdrawing from Syria. According to USA Today, military leaders have stated that the process is underway – despite growing confusion surrounding the timeline for the withdrawal, as well as experts who have criticized the move by Donald Trump.
The withdrawal has come as something as a surprise to officials, particularly after White House national security advisor John Bolton insisted that the withdrawal would not be immediate. Bolton also said that troops would remain in Syria until ISIS had been fully dealt with so that no additional harm could come to citizens of the region. Additionally, Bolton said there would be no withdrawal until Turkey made an official pledge not to attack Kurdish military forces, which the U.S. works closely within Syria.
Unfortunately, none of Bolton’s demands have been met – and this could spell serious trouble for Kurdish militias, the report stressed. Turkey currently has thousands upon thousands of troops patrolling the border it shares with Syria and they are ready to defend themselves if necessary. On more than one occasion Turkish officials have warned that they have no problem with attacking Kurdish militia members as the group is rumored to be connected with anti-Turkish organizations. These organizations stand accused of multiple bombing and assassination attempts and Turkish officials are more than willing to strike back.
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Donald Trump sent shockwaves through the military community when he announced the withdrawal back on December 19. The move was made in direct contradiction to advice from the Defense Department and the Pentagon. Just one day later, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis published a lengthy resignation letter that stated he categorically disagreed with Trump’s military moves.
Although the withdrawal is well underway at this point, details remain decidedly sketchy. Officials have declined to comment on any specifics, including the timetable for when the withdrawal is expected to be completed.
“Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements,” Colonel Sean Ryan, who is serving as spokesman for the coalition tasked with fighting ISIS, said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press and quoted by the New York Post.
There are about 2,000 American troops currently on duty in Syria. The United States has had a military presence in the area since 2014 when forces were first sent in to help Kurdish-led fighters gain the upper hand against the Islamic State group.
Kurdish officials are demanding the United States provide more details on their military moves, as well as explain how they intend to secure the region once there are no longer troops on the ground in Syria.