US National Security Advisor John Bolton. File photo: Cliff Owen / AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – John Bolton, the US national security advisor, arrived in Turkey on Monday to discuss the fate of Syria’s Kurds – US allies in the fight against ISIS.
Bolton is expected to meet with Turkish officials, including the country’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Tuesday.
The Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria – known to Kurds as Rojava – fears Turkey will attack when the US withdraws its 2,000 troops.
Donald Trump, the US president, dropped the withdrawal bombshell in late December, indicating US troops will be leaving imminently. After fierce criticism from members of his administration, Trump seems to have backtracked, saying there is currently no timeline for such a withdrawal.
On Monday, Trump tried to reassure critics the withdrawal would be “prudent” and timely.
“We will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!” Trump tweeted.
White House spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp told Fox News on Monday: “The president hasn’t changed his position, as he mentioned his primary goal is to ensure the safety of our troops and the safety of our allies as well. And so the Department of Defense will come up with its operational plan to safely withdraw our troops.”
Meanwhile fighting continues in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province to liberate the final shreds of territory held by ISIS.
During talks in Israel on Sunday, Bolton said the US withdrawal is “conditional” on assurances from Turkey it would not attack America’s Kurdish allies.
“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States,” he said.
Ankara considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) a wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought the Turkish state for greater Kurdish political and cultural rights since the 1980s.
The YPG, which makes up the backbone of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), denies any organic ties with the PKK.
Turkey has already launched two cross-border operations in Syria – first in 2016 against ISIS in Azaz and al-Bab then in 2018 against the YPG in Afrin.
Last updated 7.30 pm