Turkey vowed to take over the fight against Islamic State in Syria days before U.S. President Donald Trump announced his decision to pull out troops, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly revealed Friday.
Several news outlets have reported that Trump’s December 14 phone conversation with Erdogan led to the American commander-in-chief giving the final order for the U.S. withdrawal from Syria earlier this week.
NBC News reported:
Trump stunned his Cabinet, lawmakers and much of the world with the move by rejecting the advice of his top aides and agreeing to a withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, two officials briefed on the matter said. The Dec. 14 call, described by officials who were not authorized to discuss the decision-making process publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, is a view into a Trump decision with profound consequences, including the resignation of widely respected Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News reported Friday that Trump asked the Turkish president to take over the fight against ISIS during the phone call.
On Friday, President Erdogan said Turkey would mobilize to combat the ISIS remnants in Syria, Reuters reported.
“We will be working on our operational plans to eliminate ISIS elements, which are said to remain intact in Syria, in line with our conversation with President Trump,” Erdogan declared, referring to the phone call.
Erdogan also said Turkey would delay plans to attack Kurdish fighters in the northeast of Syria, citing the phone call with Trump as the reason.
“Our phone call with President Trump, along with contacts between our diplomats and security officials and statements by the United States, have led us to wait a little longer,” the Turkish president proclaimed. “We have postponed our military operation against the east of the Euphrates river until we see on the ground the result of America’s decision to withdraw from Syria.”
The Turkish president, nevertheless, warned that the delay was not an “open-ended waiting period” and that, due to past “negative experiences”, Turkey welcomed the United States’ decision to pull out with an equal amount of pleasure and caution.
Ankara and some U.S. officials consider the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their allies in Syria to be an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) communist terrorist group.
U.S. support for the YPG has strained ties between NATO allies Turkey and the United States, pushing Ankara closer to dictator Bashar al-Assad’s ally Russia.
Last week, Erdogan renewed threats to launch a campaign to push the YPG and its allies out of northern Syria, prompting the U.S. to warn Ankara against the move.
Despite the Pentagon’s cautioning Turkey against the move, Erdogan touted support from Trump for the planned incursion into Kurdish-held territory in Syria. The White House declined to comment on the allegation.
The Trump administration’s withdrawal announcement, however, has abruptly changed perceptions of what all sides can reasonably expect going forward, prompting some Syrian Kurds to accuse the U.S. of abandoning them.
Syrian Kurds have reportedly turned to Russia and its ally, the Iran-backed Assad regime, for assistance in repelling a prospective Turkish attack.
U.S. troops have provided a buffer against clashes between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds for months. Trump administration officials have been moving away from America’s Syrian Kurdish allies in recent weeks, conceding that the group is linked to the PKK.
The Trump administration has long been pushing for regional ownership of the conflict in the Middle East.
It is “time for others to finally fight,” Trump declared in defending his decision to pull out the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria.
Although the president argues ISIS has been “defeated,” the Pentagon’s office of the inspector general and independent assessments show the group remains a threat.
U.S. officials have indicated that the time frame for the American troop pullout from Syria would likely be between 60 to 100 days.