A U.S. Soldier surveils the area during a combined joint patrol in Manbij, Syria, November 1, 2018. Picture taken on November 1, 2018..
(photo credit: COURTESY ZOE GARBARINO/U.S. ARMY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
US National Security Adviser John Bolton said that the Trump administration would only pull troops out of Syrian territory once the Pentagon had formalized a contingency plan to shield US allies fighting there – including Kurdish forces who are in conflict with Istanbul – to protect against Iranian encroachment on Israel’s border.
The top adviser is in the Middle East to assure US allies, including Israel, who are alarmed by the sudden US policy turn. In December, Trump declared a rapid withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops from Syria, leading to the resignations of his defense secretary, James Mattis, and his top counter-Islamic State officer, Brett McGurk.
Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin originally rejoiced over Trump’s move, but now think that an internal rebellion within his ranks will slow down the policy process. An editorial in a top Turkish newspaper on Tuesday claimed that a “soft coup” had taken place against the US president.
Erdogan characterized the statement as “a serious mistake” that complicated a pledge the president made to him directly over the phone last month.
“Different voices have started emerging from different segments of the administration,” Erdogan said, refusing to meet with Bolton during his trip over the comments. “Bolton has made a serious mistake and whoever thinks like this has also made a mistake. It is not possible for us to make compromises on this point.”
Instead, Bolton met his Turkish counterpart Ibrahim Kalin. A senior US official said Bolton told the Turkish officials that the United States opposed any mistreatment of its Kurdish allies, even as Erdogan pledged to treat Kurdish forces just as it treats Islamic State.
The senior US official also said that the United States would not be withdrawing from its base at al-Tanf near the Iraqi border.
On Tuesday, also during a visit to the region, in Jordan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the withdrawal would not jeopardize Washington’s efforts to counter regional threats from Islamic State and Iran.
The US was “redoubling not only our diplomatic but our commercial efforts to put real pressure on Iran,” Pompeo said.
Israel is deeply concerned that the US pullout from Syria will provide a power vacuum for Iran to fill.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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