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US-led coalition says has started Syria withdrawal

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The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria, a spokesman said on Friday, indicating the start of a U.S. pullout that has been clouded by mixed messages from Washington.

President Donald Trump announcement last month that he had decided to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops stunned allies that have joined Washington in the battle against Islamic State in Syria. Top U.S. officials were shocked too, among them Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who quit in protest.

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The coalition “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,” Colonel Sean Ryan said.

Russia, which has deployed forces into Syria in support of the Damascus government, said on Friday it had the impression that the United States wanted to stay despite the announced withdrawal of U.S. troops, RIA news agency reported.

The decision has injected new uncertainties into the eight-year long Syrian war and a flurry of contacts over how a resulting security vacuum will be filled across a swathe of northern and eastern Syria where the U.S. forces are stationed.

On the one hand, Turkey aims to pursue a campaign against Kurdish forces that have partnered with the United States, and on the other the Russia- and Iran-backed Syrian government sees the chance to recover a huge chunk of territory.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested on Tuesday that protecting Washington’s Kurdish allies would be a pre-condition of the U.S. withdrawal. That drew a rebuke from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan who called his comments “a serious mistake”.

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been touring the Middle East this week to reassure allies of Washington’s commitment to regional security, said on Thursday the withdrawal would not be scuppered despite the Turkish threats.

The Kurdish groups that control the north have turned to Moscow and Damascus in the hope of striking a political deal that will stave off Turkey and shield their autonomy in the north.

Turkey views the U.S.-backed YPG Syrian Kurdish militia as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a 34-year insurgency in Turkey for Kurdish political and cultural rights, mostly in southeastern areas near Syria.

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A top Kurdish politician told Reuters last week the Kurds had presented Moscow with a road-map for a deal with Damascus. Syria’s deputy foreign minister said on Wednesday he was optimistic about renewed dialogue with the Kurds.

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Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian of France, which is part of the U.S.-led coalition, welcomed what he believed was a slower withdrawal by the U.S after pressure from its allies.

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“They have said that the pullout will be done in a slower way … in all likelihood because of the various pressure that it might have had including from France. President Macron spoke to him (Trump) several times and it seems that there has been a change that I think is positive,” he said in a television interview on Thursday.

In a rare acknowledgment that French troops were also in Syria, he said they would leave when there is a political solution in the country. “Obviously when there is a political solution, we will withdraw,” he said without elaborating.

Reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut, John Irish in Paris and Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Jon Boyle and Peter Graff

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‘Something nefarious going on’: Obama deputy chief of staff doesn’t buy White House claims on Trump’s health

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The deputy chief of staff for operations in the Obama administration broke down on Monday why the White House claims on President Donald Trump's surprise Saturday visit to Walter Reed Hospital.

Jim Messina, who also was the campaign manager for Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, was interviewed Monday on MSNBC's "The Last Word" by anchor Lawrence O'Donnell.

O'Donnell noted the note the White House physician sent to White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham:

[caption id="attachment_1563602" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Memorandum from Dr. Sean Conley to Stephanie Grisham.[/caption]

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Trump doctor denies the president underwent any ‘neurologic evaluations’ at Walter Reed Hospital

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The physician to the president claimed that President Donald Trump did not undergo "neurologic" evaluations during a surprise visit to Walter Reed Hospital.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham released a picture of a memorandum from Dr. Sean Conley, which was printed on "Office of the Press Secretary" letterhead.

The memo was sent to Grisham.

On Saturday, Grisham had claimed the purpose of the visit was to conduct a "partial" physical. Dr. Conley referred to the visit as an "interim check up."

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‘I don’t know how Secretary Pompeo is not dragged in’: Ex-FBI counsel says Secretary of State must testify

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On Monday's edition of CNN's "Cuomo Prime Time," former FBI general counsel James Baker told Chris Cuomo that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has to answer for the allegations laid out in the impeachment testimony.

"They wanted to give [Ukraine Ambassador Marie] Yovanovitch support, she asked them for support, they decided no, maybe because they thought the president would jump all over them. So what?" said Cuomo.

"The issue with her is that they wanted to and were inclined to get her out of the way, unless she was willing to play ball, unless she was willing to acquiesce in this sort of irregular channel and the goals of the irregular channel that Ambassador Taylor described," said Baker. "They were going to either get her out of the way, or have her join the team. This is what it seems to me was going on. They were trying to achieve these other objectives and they were going to either do it by forcing the career people to go along and compromise their values, quite frankly, or they were going to do it through the Giuliani channel."

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