US wants to ensure security for Kurdish allies before completely withdrawing its troops from Syria, but Turkey opposes Washington’s request.
On Tuesday, Jan. 9, Turkey requested the US hand over 16 US military bases in northern Syria to Ankara, as the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported. In response, the US asked Turkey to guarantee the safety of the US’ Kurdish allies.
If Washington refuses to hand over the bases, it will be asked to demolish them instead, requests that may complicate progress on the US’ plan to withdraw troops from war-torn Syria.
During his Middle East trip, national security adviser John Bolton met his Turkish counterpart Ibrahim Kalin on Jan. 9, a few days after the former added one key condition for the U.S.’ troop withdrawal from Syria. Bolton said Turkey had to agree to protect America’s Kurdish allies in Syria, The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which the U.S. considers an important partner in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).
Bolton’s statement contradicts what his boss, US President Donald Trump, previously said when he announced last month that the US would withdraw its troops from Syria immediately and that ISIS was conquered.
“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States at a minimum so they don’t endanger our troops but also so that they meet the President’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered,” Bolton said.
But Trump revised his statement by saying he never said the US would pull out its troops quickly. “We are pulling back in Syria. We’re going to be removing our troops. I never said we’re doing it that quickly,” the President told reporters at the White House.
Turkey Snubs US Requests on YPG
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to Bolton’s statement by saying that the US national security adviser had made “serious mistakes” while demanding Turkey provide a guarantee to protect Kurds in Syria’s northeastern part before Washington pulls out its troops from the war-ravaged nation.
Criticizing Bolton’s statement, Erdogan said Turkey would give no concessions to what it calls a terrorist group in Syria. Ankara also denied promising the US to provide safety for the YPG.
The US supports the YPG as part of a partnership in the US’ fight against ISIS. While Turkey has linked the YPG to the Kurdistan’s Workers Party (PKK), a Kurd group that has waged a war in Turkey’s southeast part for more than a decade. Turkey, the EU and the US have labeled the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Erdogan also stressed that its military has prepared a fresh attack on terrorist groups in Syria and most of the plans are ready.
Kalin also criticized Bolton’s request, saying that nobody should expect that Turkey will provide a guarantee for a terrorist organization.
US Can’t Depend on Turkey to Combat ISIS
Trump claims that leaving Syria has been his long-term plan, but many US policymakers, including those in Congress, were shocked by Trump’s Syria withdrawal announcement especially given Bolton’s statement last September that US troops would be in Syria until Iranians left.
Trump’s plan to withdraw troops from Syria could make the US more reliant on Turkey in the war against ISIS, and also could create a power vacuum enabling the terrorist group to rise.
Relying heavily on Erdogan and Turkey to battle ISIS would present multiple problems for the US, one reason being that Turkey’s main priority has always been to contain the Kurds and any opposition to Erdogan, not to contain ISIS. The Kurds have also proven for the US a valuable asset in the fight against ISIS, meaning Turkish efforts to contain the Kurds would weaken one of the primary forces fighting ISIS.
After massive attacks in Gaziantep, Istanbul and Ankara in the past few years, ISIS has also displayed its operational reach capabilities and shown Turkey is far from impenetrable.
Turkey has never been completely sincere in the fight against ISIS and has often sent mixed messages to friends and foes. Between 8,000 and 10,000 Turkish people have moved to Iraq and Syria as expat terrorists since the war broke out.
According to Turkey’s Social Trends Survey, which involved around 1,500 in 2015, around 9 percent said they believed ISIS was not a terrorist group, and more than 5 percent said they supported what it has done so far.