The US military has begun moving non-essential gear out of Syria but is not withdrawing troops for now, defence officials said Friday as uncertainty grew over America's planned pullout from the battered nation. Trump's national security advisor John Bolton on Sunday announced conditions for a withdrawal that appeared to delay it indefinitely. Adding to the confusion, a military spokesman said Friday the US had already begun "the process of our deliberate withdrawal" from Syria. US defence officials quickly sought to clarify the remark, stressing that the withdrawal was only of certain types of gear, and not troops.
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"We are not withdrawing troops at this stage," one US defense official said. A second US defence official told AFP the military had conducted a number of preparations for a deliberate withdrawal.
"That includes planning for the moving of people and equipment, preparation of facilities to accept retrograde equipment," the official said, noting that no troops had been withdrawn.
The US-led coalition has several other bases across northeastern Syria, as well as in neighboring Iraq, where Trump has said American forces will remain.
Earlier, Donald Trump surprised the world and his country as well when he suddenly announced that the US is pulling out its troops from Syria. "In Syria, Erdogan said he wants to knock out ISIS, whatever's left, the remnants of ISIS. And Saudi Arabia just came out and said they are going to pay for some economic development. Which is great, that means we don't have to pay. We are spread out all over the world. We are in countries most people haven't even heard about. Frankly, it's ridiculous," Trump added.
Trump's sudden decision sparked turmoil in his administration, prompting the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, as well as of Brett McGurk, the special envoy to the anti-IS coalition.
Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the global coalition fighting the Islamic State group, resigned in protest over President Donald Trump's abrupt decision to withdraw US troops from Syria, a US official said, joining Defence Secretary Jim Mattis in an administration exodus of experienced national security figures.
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McGurk had said it would be "reckless" to consider IS defeated and therefore would be unwise to bring American forces home. McGurk decided to speed up his original plan to leave his post in mid-February. Appointed to the post by President Barack Obama in 2015 and retained by Trump, McGurk said in his resignation letter that the militants were on the run, but not yet defeated, and that the premature pullout of American forces from Syria would create the conditions that gave rise to IS.