Trump took Turkish president's advice to withdraw from Syria, putting Kurds in Ankara's crosshairs
Matthew Lee and Susannah George at the Associated Press report:
President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria was made hastily, without consulting his national security team or allies, and over strong objections from virtually everyone involved in the fight against the Islamic State group, according to U.S. and Turkish officials. 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 U.S. officials and a Turkish official briefed on the matter told The Associated Press. […]
The Dec. 14 call came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu agreed to have the two presidents discuss Erdogan’s threats to launch a military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels in northeast Syria, where American forces are based. The NSC then set up the call.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo all had previously been successful at persuading Trump not to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. But, egged on by Erdoğan to remove the 2,200 U.S. troops fighting alongside Kurdish fighters against ISIS in Syria, Trump ignored his staff even though the Turkish president himself had advised against a precipitous withdrawal.
And now Erdoğan has made it clear that Turkey will launch an offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria in the months ahead:
In a televised speech on Friday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s army would be able to “neutralise terrorist organisations” including US-backed Kurdish militants that dominate the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of fighters that has been Washington’s main local ally in the fight against Isis.
“Our stance against terrorist attacks emerging from Syria is clear: We will make no concessions,” Mr Erdogan said.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units are a key element in the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting ISIS. Turkey labels the KPPU terrorist because it has ties to Kurdish rebels who have been fighting for greater autonomy within Turkey since the 1980s. Kurds make up about a fifth of the population in Turkey, as many as 20 million of the nation’s 78 million people, although exact numbers are not available because the Ankara government forbids ethnic censuses. Kurds also live in adjacent regions of Syria, Iraq, and Iran.