17:43 GMT +317 January 2019
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    USS Kearsarge (LHD-3), file photo.

    US Navy Sends Warship Toward Syria Amid Expected US Withdrawal - Reports

    U.S. Navy/Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Jose E. Ponce
    Middle East
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    Earlier, a US official indicated that the country had begun pulling military hardware out of Syria, but that troops were not being withdrawn "at this stage".

    The US has sent the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship currently deployed in the Mediterranean, toward Syria, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed defence officials.

    The massive, Wasp-class vessel, capable of carrying over 1,800 troops and/or dozens of armoured vehicles in its 13,600 square-foot well deck, was sent toward Syria along with other US Navy vessels to support the expected withdrawal, according to the newspaper.

    The naval group will be complemented by hundreds of US Marines, along with armed helicopters, to protect troops while they leave the country, according to the WSJ's sources.

    "Nothing has changed. We don't take orders from Bolton," one of the officials said, in apparent reference to earlier reports that Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton has been discussing possible plans to keep a presence in Syria 'to counter Iran' in spite of the president's orders.

    Earlier, a US official speaking to the news agency AFP said that the Pentagon had begun withdrawing 'non-essential equipment' from the war-torn country, but that military personnel remain deployed.

    President Trump announced that the US would withdraw its estimated 2,000 US troops from Syria on December 19, saying their mission of defeating Daesh (ISIS)* had been completed and that bringing US military personnel home from wars in the Middle East would fulfil a campaign promise.

    Trump's decision was criticised by members of his staff, even prompting Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis to tender his resignation. Brett McGurk, the president's special envoy for the US coalition in Syria, and Dana White, a Defence Department spokeswoman, also resigned. Washington officials continue to clash over the withdrawal's timetable.

    The US-led coalition launched a campaign of airstrikes in Syria in September 2014, claiming its goal was to defeat Daesh. The coalition never received authorisation to operate on Syrian territory from Damascus or the UN Security Council. As the campaign progressed, the US set up a ground base in southern Syria near the border with Jordan and Iraq, where it engaged in the retraining of anti-government militants. It has also deployed forces in northern Syria, in areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a mostly-Kurdish force which is in de facto control of northeastern Syria. On the campaign trail in 2016, Donald Trump repeatedly questioned the logic (accepted by both his Republican and Democratic opponents) of fighting both Daesh and the Syrian government.

    *A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.

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    Tags:
    amphibious assault ship, withdrawal, warship, USS Kearsarge, US Navy, Syria, United States, Mediterranean Sea
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