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Equipment, not troops being moved out of Syria: Pentagon

The US military has started moving non-essential equipment out of Syria, but it is not withdrawing troops for now, a defence official said Friday as the Pentagon sought to clarify an earlier statement.

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

Earlier, US military spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan had said the US had begun “the process of our deliberate withdrawal” from Syria.

President Donald Trump last month claimed the Islamic State group had been defeated and said US troops would return home “now.”

A second US defence official said 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equipment, preparation of facilities to accept retrograde equipment,” the official said, noting that no troops had been withdrawn yet.

The Pentagon stressed it would not telegraph its troop movements or give timelines for when they may leave Syria.

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.

Read More: White House says Trump wants safe withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria

“On Thursday, some American forces withdrew from the Rmeilan military base in Hasakeh province,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based monitoring organisation, said.

“This is the first such pullout of American forces since the US president’s announcement” of a full troop withdrawal from Syria last month, he said.

On December 19, Trump said he had ordered the withdrawal of all US forces in Syria, which are believed to number around 2,000.

His announcement, which came after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was criticised even within his own camp and is already having major repercussions on the nearly eight-year-old conflict.

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