WASHINGTON—The U.S. military has begun moving equipment out of Syria as it pushes forward on President Trump’s order to withdraw forces, but planners are still working out details of how and when more than 2,000 troops will leave, defense officials said Friday.
Some logistical and support troops have now moved into Syria, after first going to Kuwait and Iraq, to help with an eventual U.S. withdrawal, defense officials said. At the same time, a small number of U.S. troops operating in Syria left in the past week, and a limited quantity of nonessential equipment has been moved out, usually on helicopters that delivered other cargo to Syria.
The U.S. military also is putting Navy ships, aircraft and personnel into place to support troops as they withdraw, particularly at the vulnerable point when forces are leaving the country.
Despite those movements, the U.S. military has said the pullout is in its initial stages and that officials are largely working to position forces and equipment in the region ahead of the withdrawal. The exit plan is slated to take roughly four months, the officials said.
Complicating the planning is the timing of the withdrawal. While U.S. forces usually leave at the end of a conflict, in this instance, they likely will be battling Islamic State even as they are moving out, officials noted.
Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, said late Friday that the military has taken “a number of logistical measures” to support the withdrawal but hasn’t begun to formally redeploy troops. “The withdrawal is based on operational conditions on the ground, including conversation with our allies and partners, and is not subject to an arbitrary timeline,” he said.
Mr. Trump announced the withdrawal Dec. 19 but plans have bogged down amid disagreements within the administration and difficult talks with Turkey, which had promised to take over the fight against Islamic State militants in Syria.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Friday that one of its top diplomats would lead a delegation to Washington early next month to continue discussions on the fallout from the U.S. decision to pull out of Syria.
U.S. officials at first thought they had assurances from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan not to attack the U.S.’s Kurdish partners in Syria, but the Turkish president made clear this week that he hasn’t agreed to that condition.
On Friday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told troops stationed along the Syrian border that Ankara would launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters “when the time is right.”
The Trump administration has asked Turkey to respond to five principles it has outlined for the withdrawal: making sure the departing U.S. forces are protected; eliminating remaining Islamic State strongholds in Syria; ensuring that Turkey doesn’t mistreat Kurdish fighters; finding ways to push Iran out of Syria; and ensuring that foreign fighters held by America’s partners in Syria aren’t freed.
Officials are also still sorting out the extent of the U.S. withdrawal. Administration officials have said they are looking to keep a small base in southern Syria open for the foreseeable future.
That base, known as al-Tanf, is home to roughly 300 U.S. troops who have served as an unofficial obstacle to Iranian efforts to use southern Syria to ferry weapons from Iran to its allies in Lebanon, the militant Hezbollah group.
However, the military order guiding the withdrawal plans, signed by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, called for U.S. troops to leave from the entire country. Because of that, the Pentagon has said it still plans to withdraw its troops, including those based in al-Tanf.
Mr. Mattis resigned his post in part over Mr. Trump’s withdrawal order.
The USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship, is headed to the region with other Navy vessels to support the withdrawal, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The naval group, which hasn’t yet arrived, will bring hundreds of Marines as well as helicopters that could aid ground troops in Syria.
—David Gauthier-Villars in Istanbul and Gordon Lubold in Washington contributed to this article.