US Claims Syria Withdrawal has Begun; Russia Doubtful

The US claims it has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria but Russia cast doubt on the claim Friday, saying it thinks Washington wants to stay in the Arab country.

President Donald Trump last month unexpectedly announced a US troop withdrawal from Syria, with US military spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan announcing Friday that the pullout had begun.

The US "has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria. Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements," he said, according to Press TV.

Ryan's announcement came a day after a US military official said the United States had removed some equipment from Syria.

"I can confirm the movement of equipment from Syria," the unnamed official was quoted as saying by AFP, but declined to provide further details "for security reasons."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reacted to the allegation, saying he thought the United States wanted to stay on in the Arab country.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters that if the claims were true the territory previously controlled by the US should be transferred to the Syrian government.

"In this regard, establishing dialogue between the Kurds and Damascus takes on particular significance. After all, the Kurds are an integral part of Syrian society," she said.

Zakharova also said Russia remains committed to an agreement it had struck with Turkey to stabilize a de-escalation zone in Syria's Idlib province, but Moscow is worried by an increase in the number of ceasefire violations there.

US Secretary of Defense Mike Pompeo stressed on Thursday that the alleged US withdrawal from Syria was not "a change of mission."

"Let me be clear: America will not retreat until the terror fight is over," he claimed, adding, "For our part, our airstrikes in the region will continue as targets arise," he said in a speech at the American University in Cairo.

Pompeo's remarks in Cairo also appeared to contradict Trump's announcement, drawing immediate criticism from Middle East experts as well as officials who served under former US president Barack Obama.

“We learned that when America retreats, chaos often follows. When we neglect our friends, resentment builds. And when we partner with our enemies, they advance,” he said.

“The good news is this: The age of self-inflicted American shame is over. And so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering. Now comes the real new beginning,” Pompeo added, according to Press TV.