The U.S. military has begun the process of bringing home troops from Syria, according to reports Friday.
Colonol Sean Ryan, spokesman for U.S. coalition forces, said in a statement that the U.S. “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.”
Last month, President Trump promised to withdraw the about 2,000 troops currently stationed in Syria, announcing that the Islamic State has been defeated in the region. The controversial move drew bipartisan criticism and caused defense secretary James Mattis a day later to announce his departure from the administration in protest.
“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” Mattis wrote in his resignation letter to the president.
Mattis originally said he would depart at the end of February, but Trump opted to remove him sooner.
Mattis’s chief of staff Kevin Sweeney, coalition forces special envoy Brett McGurk, and Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White have also resigned in recent weeks.
Amid concern that pulling out U.S. troops would hurt Kurdish forces that have fought alongside American soldiers, national-security adviser John Bolton on Sunday announced that U.S. troops will remain in northeastern Syria until ISIS is defeated and the Kurds are safe.
“These have been folks that have fought with us and it’s important that we do everything we can to ensure that those folks that fought with us are protected,” secretary of state Mike Pompeo said of the Kurdish forces.
U.S. troops have had a presence in Syria since 2014. Departing now leaves Kurdish forces vulnerable to attacks from Turkey as well as Syrian government troops, backed by Iran and Russia.
Trump has also announced he will bring home half of the 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan.