US 'optimistic' on deal to protect Kurds

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On Jan. 8, he began a nine-nation tour of the Middle East, which is aimed at reassuring allies following U.S. President Donald Trump's decision in December to withdraw all American troops from Syria.

There are some 2,000 US troops stationed across northeastern Syria.

Adding to the confusion, a military spokesman said Friday the United States had already begun "the process of our deliberate withdrawal" from Syria.

She added that the peace and stability of areas U.S. forces withdraw from "must be guaranteed", including by putting an end to the Turkish threats and fully eradicating the IS group and its sleeper cells.

He said the U.S. envoy for Syria, Jim Jeffrey, had travelled to northeast Syria this week and would soon go to Ankara for talks, including on moving forward a UN-led political process to end the eight-year long conflict in Syria.

Officials have previously told CNN to expect to see discussion of percentages of equipment withdrawn as a way of meeting Trump's intent - even though it's expected that no troops are coming out immediately.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had earlier reported that the coalition had started scaling down its presence at Rmeilan airfield in the notheastern province of Hasakeh.

Separately, the head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, confirmed that the U.S. had started withdrawing troops from the airfield base near the town of Rmeilan in northeast Syria on Thursday evening.

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There has been confusion over plans to implement Trump's pullout order amid threats from Turkey to attack the Kurdish fighters, who are seen by Ankara as terrorists due to their ties to insurgents within Turkey.

There are 2,000 USA troops in Syria and while the military has orders to follow the president's decision to withdraw, they have no timelines attached for how long it will take. The comments angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who then refused to meet with Bolton during a visit to Turkey.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested on Tuesday that protecting the Kurds would be a pre-condition of the USA withdrawal, drawing a rebuke from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan who called his comments "a serious mistake". The spokesman added that, to protect security, the coalition would not provide details on troop movements.

But, he added, "we also know that those who are fighting alongside us for all this time deserve to be protected as well".

Erdogan also warned that preparations were complete for a military operation against the YPG. If not, the Trump administration would be accused of abandoning an ally to a grim fate.

Turkey considers America's Kurdish allies of the YPG militia - who were vital in the ground war against ISIS - a terrorist group.

"Many of the Kurdish statements were positive regarding their concern for the unity of Syria", Assistant Syrian Foreign Minister Ayman Sousan told a small group of journalists in Damascus.

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