Pentagon skeptical about Russia's Syria pullout claims

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and President of Syria Bashar al-Assad (R) inspect a military parade at the Russian air base in Hmeimim in northwestern Syrian

The Pentagon on Monday voiced skepticism about Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that he had ordered the partial withdrawal of troops from Syria.

Putin visited the war-torn nation Monday and said a "significant part" of the Russian troop contingent in Syria is heading home after their mission had been largely completed.

But Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said such declarations were not necessarily reflected by action.

"Russian comments about removal of their forces do not often correspond with actual troop reductions, and do not affect US priorities in Syria," he said.

A US official told AFP that Putin was likely to carry out a "token withdrawal" of some aircraft, then follow up by demanding the United States pulls its forces out of Syria.

The US military last week said it would stay in Syria, where it is fighting the Islamic State group, as long as necessary to ensure the jihadists don't return.

The "coalition will continue to operate in Syria in support of local forces on the ground to complete the military defeat of ISIS and stabilize liberated territory, in turn allowing for displaced Syrians and refugees to return," Rankine-Galloway said.

Syria's conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests, but quickly spiraled into a bitter and complex civil war, with IS just one element.

The open-ended US commitment in Syria is likely to rile Russia, which since late 2015 has conducted a separate military campaign to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The size of the Russian deployment in Syria is not known, but independent Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer has told AFP that up to 10,000 troops and private contractors could have taken part in the conflict.