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Clay Curtis
January 13, 2019

When did the withdrawal start?

U.S. President Donald Trump announced via Twitter on December 19 that all U.S. troops in Syria would come home.

Senior US officials were shocked too, among them Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who quit in protest. A separate spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition declined to discuss timelines, locations and troop movements, as NPR's Bill Chappell reported.

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

"Teaming with the Kearsarge ARG, we look forward to training with allied and partner military forces while also providing versatile, amphibious response options to our combatant commanders as we face myriad global challenges", Col. Michael Perez, commander of the 22nd MEU, said in a statement last month.

In an e-mail statement to The Associated Press on Friday, Army Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, the US regional command, said the USA had begun "the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria".

Trump initially indicated that the withdrawal would be quick but has since stated that it would be "slow and coordinated" with allies. For years Trump has criticized US deployment in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

A Kurdish-led group, the Syrian Democratic Forces, is now flushing the jihadists from the very last pockets of land they control in the Euphrates River Valley.

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America's main ally fighting ISIS in Syria, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, held emergency talks with Moscow and Damascus over fears that Turkey will use the USA withdrawal to launch an offensive.

It was announced that the 2,000 troops in Syria would be withdrawn over the course of 60 to 100 days, but officials including US national security adviser John Bolton have said the US States will not leave until IS is defeated.

Comments by Bolton on the matter drew a quick rejection this past week from Erdogan, who said they were a "serious mistake" and that Turkey "cannot make any concessions in this regard".

USA officials, among them Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have made it clear they do not want Turkey "to slaughter" the Kurds, their partners against the Islamic State, when Washington retreats from Syria, a move seen as a betrayal by many Kurds who lost thousands of men and women during the war.

President Trump shocked nearly everyone - from Congress and the Pentagon, to America's allies and enemies around the world - when he announced the pullout, arguing that the USA was "getting nothing" from its involvement in the country.

"We hope we can turn the corner here", Mr Pompeo added.

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".

"These have been folks that have fought with us and it's important that we do everything we can to ensure that those folks that fought with us are protected", Pompeo said of the Kurds while visiting Erbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, after talks in Baghdad. If there changes to that, such as leaving troops in eastern and southern Syria, Trump would have to approve those specific details, the official said. Both had declared that the USA would not leave unless ISIS was entirely defeated and Turkey agreed not to attack Syrian Kurds. "They help. They show what reality is, they provide [people to] reunite with families", she said.

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