QAMISHLI, Syria (Dispatches) -- The U.S. military said on Friday it has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria but Russia cast doubt on the claim, saying it thinks Washington wants to stay in the Arab country.
President Donald Trump last month unexpectedly announced the withdrawal, with U.S. military spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan announcing Friday that the pullout had begun.
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," he said.
Ryan's announcement came a day after a U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
Trump has said he agreed to submit areas under the control of Kurdish militants to Turkey, prompting outrage among the community in northern Syria and warnings by US politicians that Washington was betraying its allies in the region.
U.S. officials are now sending contradictory signals on the plan, prompting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to say on Thursday that his country's planned military operation against Kurdish militants in Syria would not depend on an American withdrawal.
Turkey's defense minister on Friday pledged to wage a campaign against the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia.
Turkey sent a convoy of commando units and armored vehicles to the Turkish province of Hatay on the Syrian border, state-owned Anadolu news agency said Friday.
The convoy was being sent to reinforce a Turkish military presence on the border near the northern province of Idlib, the last major terrorist stronghold in Syria, Anadolu said.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton on Sunday outlined conditions for troop departure from Syria, including a provision that Turkey should guarantee the safety of YPG Kurdish militants in Syria.
Those conditions enraged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who refused to meet Bolton on his visit to Ankara early this week.
"It is not possible for us to accept and stomach the message Bolton gave from Israel," Erdogan said.
Media reports on Thursday said a draft paper outlining U.S. plans for withdrawing from Syria included leaving troops in place at a position near the Iraqi and Jordanian border.
Most U.S. forces are concentrated in the northeast of Syria, but soldiers also maintain a base near southern Syria in an area known as Al-Tanf, on the Iraqi border.
The occupying regime of Israel has reportedly lobbied for the Trump administration to reconsider pulling troops out of Al-Tanf, and according to the London-based Middle East Eye online portal, the U.S. withdrawal plan would leave soldiers there.
"The U.S. is not withdrawing from the base at Al-Tanf at this time,” it quoted a Turkish official, citing a document which was presented in Ankara by Bolton early this week.