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Syrian SDF says not informed of any U.S. withdrawal plan

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Friday it had not been informed of any plan to withdraw U.S. forces operating in Syria as part of the coalition against Islamic State.

President Donald Trump had indicated on Thursday the United States would be withdrawing forces from Syria “very soon”.

The SDF, which is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has been the main partner for the U.S.-led coalition in Syria, where some 2,000 U.S. forces are operating in the fight against Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

“Our work and coordination (with the coalition) is continuing in the framework of the support program and joint operations in all regions,” SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel told Reuters in a written message.

Referring to Trump’s statement, he said it “was not clear”, and noted “statements that came from other American officials in the American administration did not confirm that or deny it”.

Asked whether the United States would be withdrawing troops from Syria, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she was not aware of any such plan.

Asked on Friday whether U.S. forces had been informed of a decision to withdraw or were preparing to do so, the spokesman for the coalition said he would not comment on future operations.

In emailed answers to Reuters, Col. Ryan Dillon said Islamic State still held territory at two locations in Syria - near Hajin along the Euphrates River and at Dashisha near the border with Iraq.

He said coalition offensive operations had been limited as a result of events in northwest Syria, where the SDF and YPG have been fighting a Turkish incursion targeting the YPG in the Afrin region.

“The coalition and the SDF continue to find opportunities to exploit ISIS weaknesses and conduct strikes against the remaining terrorists,” he said.

Reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Edmund Blair