The American military has started withdrawing some equipment, but not yet troops, from Syria as part of President Trump’s order to wind down that battleground against the Islamic State, two Defense Department officials said on Friday amid continuing confusion over plans to disengage from one of the Middle East’s most complex conflicts.
The officials said the number of American troops might actually increase slightly in Syria, to help protect the final process of pulling out — an operation that is still expected to take at least four to six months to complete.
There are currently about 2,000 troops — mostly Army soldiers and Marines — in northeast Syria or in the Middle Euphrates River Valley to oust the remaining pockets of Islamic State fighters and secure newly-liberated areas from their return. A vaguely worded statement from the American military headquarters in Baghdad, which is overseeing the fight against the Islamic State, said the withdrawal process from Syria had begun.
Last month, officials said, Mr. Trump said that he intended to pull out American troops within 30 days. But as recently as Sunday, the White House national security adviser, John R. Bolton, had said that the pullout was conditional — based on circumstances that could leave American forces there for months or even years.
The surprise announcement on Friday, from Col. Sean Ryan, the spokesman for the United States-led coalition against the Islamic State, gave no indication of whether any troops were being pulled out or whether the United States was taking other measures that could be considered a withdrawal. [Continue reading…]