Turkey to attack Syrian Kurds even if USA doesn't withdraw: FM

Charlene Craig
January 14, 2019

The US-led coalition in Syria has begun withdrawing its troops, a spokesman said Friday, less than a month after US President Donald Trump made his shock announcement.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria through a network of activists on the ground, said the withdrawal began Thursday night.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is now on a Middle East tour to reassure allies about US plans to withdraw troops from Syria.

Over recent weeks, senior United States officials have offered confusing and contradictory accounts of the terms and speed with which the United States is leaving. "Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements", Ryan said.

A senior Kurdish politician said the Kurds are aware of the US beginning its withdraw process, describing it as "America's decision". Also, U.S. troops are among 200 to 300 coalition troops at a garrison in southern Syria known as al-Tanf, where they train and accompany local Syrian opposition forces on patrols to counter the IS group.

US troops have been involved in the Syrian conflict since 2014.

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The announcement is fueling concern about how quickly the USA will abandon its Kurdish allies, amid contradictory statements recently by Trump administration officials on an exit timetable.

Colonel Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State, said the process of removing troops for the country had started. Many are also anxious that the Kurdish forces, which spearheaded the fight against the "Islamic State" militants with U.S. backing, would be left vulnerable to an imminent attack by Turkey.

A readout of the meeting from the Joint Staff said that Dunford, Guler and Akar "discussed the security situation in Syria, the completion of the Manbij roadmap [on security cooperation], and the deliberate, coordinated effort to withdraw US ground forces from Syria".

"We have no problems with our Kurdish brothers, Arab brothers in Syria, Turkmens and other ethnic and religious groups", the DM explained, "Our only targets are the terrorists ISIS and PKK/YPG".

But the Journal reported the Pentagon execution order directing the withdrawal could be modified as details of the withdrawal plan are sorted out, noting the existing order did not include a date for the troops' exit.

Erdogan has been massing Turkish troops on the Syrian border for weeks, preparing for an invasion to eradicate Kurdish forces that the USA has vowed to protect. On Thursday, Pompeo declared that the U.S.is a "force for good" in the Middle East.

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Earlier this week, Bolton's calls for the protection of the YPG Syrian Kurdish militia as a condition for a Syrian withdrawal angered Turkey.

"When the time and place comes, the terrorists here will also be buried in the ditches and trenches they have dug", the minister said in southern Sanliurfa province.

On Friday, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said those talks will continue into next week.

Both NBC and CBS point out that this appears to contradict messaging from both Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The U.S. has about 5,200 troops in Iraq to assist its security forces, and Trump has given no indication he intends to withdraw them any time soon.

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