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by WorldTribune Staff, January 6, 2019
Turkey must commit to not target U.S.-backed Kurdish forces before American troops are pulled from Syria, national security adviser John Bolton said on Jan. 6.
President Donald Trump’s order to withdraw U.S. troops is a “cause and effect mission” that requires assurances from Turkey and other players in the region before it can be executed, Bolton told reporters in Jerusalem.
“Timetables or the timing of the withdrawal occurs as a result of the fulfillment of the conditions and the establishment of the circumstances that we want to see,” Bolton said. “It’s not the establishment of an arbitrary point for the withdrawal to take place as President Obama did in the Afghan situation…the timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”
Trump has told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria “is pending assurances that Turkey will protect Kurdish fighters who have long provided the U.S. with solid support in the campaign against Islamic State militants,” Bolton said, adding, “I’m going to follow what the president said.”
Bolton will travel to Ankara on Jan. 7 as part of a regional tour aimed at laying the groundwork for the withdrawal.
The Kurdish YPG has been instrumental in the fight that has dismantled the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) “caliphate” in Syria. Turkey, however, considers the YPG to be an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is classified as a terrorist group by both Ankara and Washington.
According to reports, U.S. envoy Jim Jeffrey said the State Department has been seeking an arrangement with Turkey that would allow Turkish forces to enter northern Syria while avoiding largely Kurdish areas.
Bolton said part of his discussions in Ankara will be aimed at determining “what the dispensary of the Turkish forces is going to be, how they relate to the opposition, and so on.”
Jeffrey and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford will join Bolton for talks in the Turkish capital on Jan. 8. Gen. Dunford will remain in Turkey to continue talks with military counterparts, while Jeffrey will continue on to Syria to talk to opposition forces, reports say.
Bolton also said that despite talk from Trump of a complete withdrawal, the U.S. may leave some forces in place at its base in Al-Tanf in southeastern Syria to prevent Iran from entrenching itself further in the country, a key concern of U.S. allies including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.
“Part of what we want to see is no vacuum in northeast Syria that malign forces can take advantage of so that will be a big part of discussions with the Turks,” Bolton said. “It’s going to be a different environment after we leave, there is no question about that, but there is no desire to see Iran’s influence spread that’s for sure.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced his resignation last month after Trump announced his decision to withdraw troops from Syria. Though Trump had declared the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) is largely completed, Mattis warned there was still much work to be done to stabilize Syria.