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US starts pulling equipment out of Syria

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WASHINGTON, USA (AP) The US military says 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.

The announcement is fueling concern about how quickly the US will abandon its Kurdish allies, amid contradictory statements recently by Trump Administration officials on an exit timetable.

The withdrawal began with shipments of military equipment, US defense officials said. But in coming weeks, the contingent of about 2,000 troops is expected to depart even as the White House says it will keep pressure on the Islamic State group. Once the troops are gone, the US will have ended three years of organising, arming, advising and providing air cover for Syrian, Kurdish and Arab fighters in an open-ended campaign devised by the Obama Administration to deal the IS group a lasting defeat.

“The fact that a couple thousand uniformed personnel in Syria will be withdrawing is a tactical change. It doesn’t materially alter our capacity to continue to perform the military actions that we need to perform,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday in the United Arab Emirates.

Uncertainty over the timing and terms of the Syria pullout have raised questions about the Trump Administration’s broader strategy for fighting Islamic extremism, including Trump’s stated intention to reduce US forces in Afghanistan this summer.

US airstrikes against IS in Syria began in September 2014, and ground troops moved in the following year in small numbers.

The US military has a limited network of bases inside Syria. Troops work mostly out of small camps in remote parts of the country’s north-east.

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