US President Donald Trump has made the “right call” to pull out his country’s troops from Syria, said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an op-ed published by the New York Times on Monday.
Erdogan will meet with John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, in the Turkish capital Ankara on Tuesday to discuss the withdrawal decision which will need to be “planned carefully,” according to the Turkish leader.
“President Trump made the right call to withdraw from Syria,” Erdogan said. “The US withdrawal, however, must be planned carefully and performed in cooperation with the right partners to protect the interests of the US, the international community, and the Syrian people.”
Erdogan claimed that Turkey was “the only country with the power and commitment to perform that task,” specifically boasting that Turkey was “the sole stakeholder” that could work with both Russia and the US in the region.
Trump announced in December that 2,000 US troops stationed in Syria would be “coming back” and claimed victory over the so-called Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria. Trump said Erdogan would “eradicate whatever is left” of the IS.
The decision was widely criticised by the US’s European allies and led to the resignation of Trump’s defence secretary, Jim Mattis.
On Sunday, however, Bolton said that there was no timetable for removing the US troops and there were “objectives we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” including the total defeat of the IS.
Erdogan also proposed to “create a stabilisation force featuring fighters from all parts of Syrian society” to secure north-eastern Syria once the US troops leave. However, he said there would be an “intense vetting process” to exclude fighters with links to terrorist organisations.
The Turkish government considers the US-allied Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a terrorist organisation associated with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. The YPG has said it fears an assault by Turkey if the US withdraws. Kurds in Iraq also fought against the IS in alliance with NATO, while Turkey is fighting an insurgency within its own borders against Kurdish groups.
Bolton said on Sunday that the US would seek assurances from Turkey that it would not harm US-allied Kurdish fighters, as a condition of withdrawal. He also said that Turkey ought not to “undertake military action that is not fully coordinated with and agreed by the US.”