BAGHDAD (AP) — The latest on Syria and U.S. military pullout (all times local):
Syrian state media are reporting that air defense units have responded to “hostile targets” near the capital of Damascus.
State TV said in its Friday night report that explosions were clearly heard in Damascus.
It was not immediately clear if the attack was carried out by Israeli warplanes, which last struck targets in Syria on Christmas Day. In that incident, Israeli aircraft flying over Lebanon fired missiles toward areas near Damascus, hitting an arms depot and wounding three soldiers.
Israeli drones and warplanes were heard flying Friday afternoon over Lebanon.
Israel is widely believed to have been behind a series of airstrikes in Syria that have mainly targeted Iranian and Hezbollah forces fighting alongside the Syrian government.
A U.S. defense official says no American troops have withdrawn yet from Syria, but some military cargo has been pulled out.
The official said the movement of equipment is part of what the military calls the start of a “deliberate withdrawal” from Syria, where about 2,000 troops have been working with a coalition of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters to defeat the remnants of the Islamic State group.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details that have not yet been publicly announced.
The official provided no numbers, but said the equipment withdrawal is underway and that an unspecified number of additional U.S. troops have been brought into Syria to assist with the withdrawal process. These include troops to provide additional security.
— Robert Burns in Washington.
A senior Kurdish politician says the Kurds are aware of the U.S. beginning to withdraw from Syria, describing it as “America’s decision.”
Ilham Ahmed, who co-chairs the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Council in northeast Syria, said the Americans have a right to make decisions that are in their country’s security and national interests.
However, she adds that safeguarding the peace and stability of the areas they withdraw from “must be guaranteed.” This includes putting an end to Turkish threats and fully eradicating the Islamic State group and its sleeper cells, she said.
Ahmed spoke to The Associated Press Friday hours after an American official said the process of withdrawing American equipment from Syria has begun.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry says the Americans are not serious about withdrawing from Syria.
Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters on Friday that it appears to Moscow that the U.S. “is looking for a reason to stay.”
Zakharova said Moscow has not seen public statements laying out the U.S. strategy in Syria and so cannot be sure that the U.S. is serious about leaving.
Zakharova’s remarks appeared shortly after an American official said that the U.S.-led military coalition has begun the process of withdrawing equipment from Syria.
An American military official says the U.S.-led military coalition has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria.
Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the U.S.-coalition fighting the Islamic State group, says the U.S. started “the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria.”
In a statement emailed to The Associated Press on Friday, he declined to discuss specific timelines or locations or troops movements out of concern for operational security.
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.
The U.S. has around 2,000 troops in Syria.