Turkish forces conduct military exercises on Syria border

Jan 14, 2019, 01:30
Turkish forces conduct military exercises on Syria border

The U.S. military said Friday it has started pulling equipment, but not troops, out of Syria as a first step in meeting President Donald Trump's demand for a complete military withdrawal.

Giving a subsequent speech about broader USA policy in the Middle East at the American University in Cairo, Pompeo said "now is the time" to bring America's forces out of Syria.

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.

Any Turkish assault on the Kurdish-held territories in Syria liberated from the Islamic State while American forces are still there may entail a potential conflict between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies.

A second USA defence official told AFP the military had conducted a number of preparations for a deliberate withdrawal.

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The withdrawal plan, whose details are classified, includes bringing additional troops into Syria temporarily to facilitate the pullout.

Russia, which has deployed forces into Syria in support of the Damascus regime, said it had the impression that the United States wanted to stay despite the announced withdrawal of U.S. troops, RIA news agency reported.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had earlier reported that the coalition had started scaling down its presence at Rmeilan airfield in the notheastern province of Hasakeh.

The threats have intensified in recent days as the USA begins the withdrawal process from Syria on President Donald Trump's orders.

President Trump consequently shocked allies and faced strong criticism at home last month when he ordered U.S. forces to immediately begin withdrawing from the approximately 30% of Syria controlled by the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance. The comments angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who then refused to meet with Bolton during a visit to Turkey.

Turkey to dispatch high-level team to Russian Federation for Syria talks
Cavusoglu will travel to Russian Federation to discuss the process of the USA withdrawal in the coming days, CNN Turk said. USA -backed forces have also raised concerns about what to do with hundreds of captured IS foreign fighters.

Turkish military has previously entered Syria in an apparent effort to drive Kurdish forces away from Turkey's borders.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he's hopeful an agreement can be reached with Ankara to protect Kurdish troops, as American forces prepare to leave.

But, he added, "we also know that those are fighting alongside of us for all this time deserve to be protected as well". National Security Advisor John Bolton conditioned the exit on guarantees from Turkey not to attack the group - angering Ankara.

A political deal could piece back together the two biggest chunks of a country splintered by eight years of war, leaving one corner of the northwest in the hands of anti-Assad rebels backed by Turkey - an adversary of both the YPG and Damascus.

"The damage is done", said Fabrice Balanche, a geographer and Syria expert.

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"President Macron spoke to him (Trump) several times and it seems that there has been a change that I think is positive", he said in a television interview on Thursday.

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