US begins withdrawing gear from Syria, but not troops

In this file photo taken on December 30, 2018 a convoy of US military vehicles rides in Syria's northern city of Manbij. (AFP)
Updated 12 January 2019

US begins withdrawing gear from Syria, but not troops

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

WASHINGTON: The US military has begun moving non-essential gear out of Syria but is not withdrawing troops for now, defense officials said Friday amid uncertainty over America’s planned exit from the war-battered nation.
President Donald Trump last month claimed the Daesh group had been defeated in Syria and said all US troops were “coming back now.”
But in the weeks since he gave the order, and the Pentagon began to implement it, Trump himself and members of his administration have delivered mixed messages about when a troop withdrawal may actually occur.
Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton on Sunday announced conditions for a withdrawal that appeared to delay it indefinitely.
Adding to the confusion, a military spokesman said Friday the US had already begun “the process of our deliberate withdrawal” from Syria.
US defense officials moved to clarify the remark, stressing that the withdrawal was only of certain types of gear, and not troops.
“We are not withdrawing troops at this stage,” one US defense official said.
A second US defense official told AFP that 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equipment, preparation of facilities to accept retrograde equipment,” the official said, noting that no troops had been withdrawn.
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 reported earlier that the US-led coalition in Syria had started scaling down its presence at Rmeilan airfield in the Hasakah province of northeastern Syria.
But the first defense official said this was merely part of a regular troop movement.
The US-led coalition has several other bases across northeastern Syria, as well as in neighboring Iraq, where Trump has said American forces will remain.

The coalition, which also includes countries such as France and Britain, was formed in mid-2014 to counter IS, which had seized swathes of Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a “caliphate.”
Air strikes and special forces have played key roles in efforts to claw back the territory lost to IS.
A Kurdish-led group, the Syrian Democratic Forces, is currently flushing the jihadists from the last pockets of land they control in the Euphrates River Valley.
The battle against die-hard jihadists in remote areas along the Iraqi-Syrian border and the hunt for IS supremo Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the world’s most wanted man, could last indefinitely.
The start of the drawdown coincided with a Middle East tour by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who insisted in Cairo on Thursday that the withdrawal would go ahead despite widespread criticism.
On the same day however, Pompeo said in a speech that “when America retreats, chaos often follows.”

Bolton’s conditions for a withdrawal included the defeat of IS in Syria and guarantees for the safety of Washington’s Kurdish allies, who have been threatened with an imminent offensive by Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan labeled Bolton’s comments unacceptable and a “grave mistake.”
The People’s Protection Units (YPG), which have spearheaded ground operations against IS in Syria, are an offshoot of the Kurdish PKK, which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist movement and has repeatedly threatened to move into Syria to create a buffer zone along the border.
The group has already started reaching out to Damascus and its Russian sponsor.
Critics of Trump’s decision, including within his own Republican party, have said a precipitous withdrawal would shatter US policy in Syria and allow IS to rebuild.
They have also argued that it would further allow Syrian regime ally Iran to extend its influence across the country and potentially threaten Israel.
Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, blasted the withdrawal plans.
“The Trump Administration’s foreign policy is as deeply flawed in its conception as it is dangerously incompetent in its execution,” Schiff said on Twitter.
Though Trump has said he wants a withdrawal to be coordinated, gradual and “prudent,” observers have stressed that his announcement was having the same impact as a withdrawal itself.
“The damage is done,” said Fabrice Balanche, a geographer and Syria expert.
“On the ground, the announcement of the pullout is as if they were already gone.”


UN agency: Iran violating all restrictions of nuclear deal

Updated 4 min 27 sec ago

UN agency: Iran violating all restrictions of nuclear deal

  • Iran signed the nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia
  • Known as the JCPOA, it allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8 kilograms

VIENNA: Iran has continued to increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium and remains in violation of its deal with world powers, the United Nations' atomic watchdog said Friday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency reported the finding in a confidential document distributed to member countries and seen by The Associated Press.
The agency said that as of May 20, Iran’s total stockpile of low-enriched uranium amounted to 1,571.6 kilograms (1.73 tons), up from 1,020.9 kilograms (1.1 tons) on Feb. 19.
Iran signed the nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia. Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, it allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8 kilograms (447 pounds).
The US pulled out of the deal unilaterally in 2018.
The IAEA reported that Iran has also been continuing to enrich uranium to a purity of 4.5%, higher than the 3.67% allowed under the JCPOA. It is also above the pact's limitations on heavy water.
The nuclear deal promised Iran economic incentives in return for the curbs on its nuclear program. Since President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal, Iran has been slowly violating the restrictions.
The ultimate goal of the JCPOA is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb — something that Tehran says it does not want to do. It has been open about the violations and continues to allow IAEA inspectors access to its facilities to monitor their operations.
It is now in violation of all restrictions outlined by the JCPOA, which Tehran says it hopes will pressure the other nations involved to increase economic incentives to make up for hard-hitting sanctions imposed by Washington after the US withdrawal.
Though Iran has been hard hit by the new coronavirus pandemic, the IAEA said it has maintained its verification and monitoring activities in the country, primarily by chartering aircraft to fly inspectors to and from Iran.
It cited “exceptional cooperation” from authorities in Austria, where it is based, and Iran in facilitating the operation.