Official Says Withdrawal from Syria Has Started; Gives No Further Detail

After Donald Trump declared that the U.S. had defeated ISIS in Syria and announced a "total withdrawal" of U.S. troops, much to Vladimir Putin's delight, National Security Adviser John Bolton attempted to roll back Trump's proclamation, saying the withdrawal would not happen right away.

But Philip Issa and Zeina Karam at the AP report that the withdrawal of U.S. troops has already quietly begun:
After days of conflicting statements about a timeline for [Donald] Trump's decision to pull out American troops from Syria, a U.S. military official said Friday that the withdrawal process has begun, declining to comment on specific timetables or movements.

Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, said "the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria" has started.

"Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations, or troops movements," the Baghdad-based official said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.

There were no other details, and it was not immediately clear how many vehicles or whether any troop units had withdrawn.

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. It said a convoy of about 10 armored vehicles, in addition to some trucks, pulled out from Syria's northeastern town of Rmeilan into Iraq.

Confirmation of the first withdrawals comes amid confusion over plans to implement 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.

A senior Kurdish politician said the Kurds are aware of the U.S. beginning its withdraw process, describing it as "America's decision."
Everything about this is troubling, from the fact that a significant withdrawal will abandon the Kurdish people in the region to certain slaughter, to the fact that we have no real idea of what is happening with this withdrawal, which includes the very real possibility that just enough troops are being relocated so that other players in the administration can tell Trump that the withdrawal has begun, while they secretly manage the war theater in Syria without the president's knowledge or input.

As ever, there will be people who greet that prospect with a sigh of relief that Trump isn't in charge. Which is entirely understandable, given Trump's compromisation and malice. But it's not good for the nation to have people other than the president covertly commanding the military, either.

I don't know what's happening in Syria, and I don't know what's happening between the White House and the Pentagon, but all the options seem pretty bad.

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