Wed, Jan 09, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Shifting timetable on troop withdrawal from Syria leaves US’ allies scrambling


US President Donald Trump’s shifting timetable for pulling US troops out of Syria has left allies and other players in the region confused and jockeying for influence over a withdrawal strategy that appeared to be a work in progress.

One day after US National Security Adviser John Bolton announced the pullout would not be as immediate as Trump had initially declared, US allies on Monday sought clarification from US diplomats.

The Kurds, who have fought alongside US forces against the Islamic State group and fear an assault by Turkey if the US withdraws, were still asking publicly for an explanation from Washington.

Bolton said that the US would first seek assurances from Turkey that it would not harm the Kurds — for the first time adding a “condition” to the withdrawal.

He on Monday arrived in Turkey to seek those guarantees from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but there was little reason for optimism.

In a New York Times op-ed published ahead of yesterday’s meeting, Erdogan referred to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a terrorist group, Turkey’s long-time position, and rejected any role for Kurdish fighters in restoring peace to the war-torn region.

The piece set up a contentious day of diplomacy for Bolton and underscored the destabilizing effects of Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip approach to foreign policy.

“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States,” Bolton said on Sunday.

Trump has made clear that he would not allow Turkey to kill Kurds, he said.

Bolton did not respond to the op-ed ahead of meetings yesterday, but such an offer would appear unlikely to be acceptable to the US.

Bolton had said that the protection of US allies in Syria, including the YPG, was among “the objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal” of US forces.

Speaking to reporters from northern Syria on Monday, a Syrian Kurdish official said that the Kurds have not been informed of any change in the US position and were in the dark about Bolton’s latest comments.

“We have not been formally or directly notified, all what we heard were media statements,” Badran Ciya Kurd said.

Kurdish officials have held conversations with Moscow and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government about protection, but Bolton called on them to “stand fast now.”

Bolton maintained that there was no fixed timetable for completing the withdrawal, but insisted that it was not an indefinite commitment to the region.

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