The U.S. has started withdrawing military equipment from Syria, an official from the Pentagon confirmed Thursday.
National Security Advisor John Bolton appeared to contradict the White House Sunday when he said the USA withdrawal from Syria would not be immediate, but the Pentagon announced Thursday that without receiving any new direction, it's moving forward with the mission.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria through a network of activists on the ground, said the withdrawal began Thursday night. A convoy of about 10 armored vehicles and some trucks pulled out of Rmeilan, Syria, heading for and into Iraq.
Confirmation of the first withdrawals comes amid confusion over plans to implement President Donald Trump's pullout order and threats from Turkey to attack the Kurds, who have been America's partners on the ground in the war against the Islamic State group in Syria.
The fate of USA troops in Syria was further muddled Tuesday when Turkish President Recep Erdogan said Bolton made a "grave mistake" when he demanded Turkey pledge protection of the American supported Kurdish fighters.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Masoud Barzani leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the province's capital Arbil during a Middle East tour, on January 9, 2019.
"We can see the way statements on the decision to withdraw forces are interpreted in various authoritative structures in the USA and which signals on this issue are coming from representatives of the administration itself", Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told journalists on Wednesday, signaling that officials in Moscow are still attempting to interpret the variety of statements coming out of Washington.
Giving a subsequent speech about broader US 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 comments were an example of the perspective that many Russian officials hold, which posits that the U.S.is an imperialist power working to maintain global hegemony.
Turkey views the US -backed YPG Syrian Kurdish militia as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a 34-year insurgency in Turkey for Kurdish political and cultural rights, mostly in southeastern areas near Syria.
Turkey was a rare ally that lauded Trump's momentous decision on Syria, a country where it will now have a freer rein to target US-allied Kurdish fighters who have played a major role in the war against IS but are deemed terrorists by Ankara.
"President Trump has made the decision to bring our troops home from Syria".
The challenge for the United States will be to strike a deal with Turkey's government that ensures the YPG militia, that was so invaluable to Washington over the past handful of years, is protected when the withdrawal is complete.