President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would have to guarantee Turkey won’t attack Kurdish forces after Americans exit, the national security adviser said.
By Carol E. Lee
JERUSALEM — President Donald Trump will not withdraw American troops from northern Syria until the Turkish government guarantees it won’t then attack Syrian Kurdish forces that have been critical allies in the fight against ISIS, national security adviser John Bolton said Sunday.
Bolton said a commitment from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that protects the Kurds after American forces exit is something Trump is demanding, and that it’s just one of several conditions that have to be met before U.S. troops leave.
“There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” Bolton said.
He spoke to reporters traveling with him to Israel and Turkey as he tried to clarify Trump’s Syria withdrawal policy for allies. He’s meeting with Israeli officials Sunday and Monday, and with Turkish officials, including Erdogan, on Tuesday.
Since Trump abruptly announced on Dec. 19 that all U.S. forces in Syria would exit immediately, administration officials have shifted the timing to say it would happen more slowly. Officials are now setting a series of conditions for withdrawal that must first be met, which Bolton described as “policy decisions that we need to implement.”
“This is a cause and effect mission,” Bolton said. “Timetables or the timing of the withdrawal occurs as a result of the fulfillment of the conditions and the establishment of the circumstances that we want to see. And once that’s done, then you talk about a timetable.”
Bolton also indicated that the U.S. troop withdrawal will not be a complete drawdown, as Trump had promised. Instead, he discussed a withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria, where most of the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops are based, while leaving some of them in the southern part of the country.
Stressing that despite conditions for withdrawal,the continued presence of U.S. forces in Syria is not unlimited.
“The primary point is we are going to withdraw from northeastern Syria,” Bolton said.
“So it’s going to be a different environment after we leave, there is no question about that,” he added. “But there is no desire to see Iran’s influence spread that’s for sure.”
Bolton also touched on a key base where the U.S. and other allies have a couple hundred troops stationed.
“Then there is the Al Tanf garrison, which is still very strategically important in connection with our determination that Iran not achieve this arc of control stretching from Iran through Iraq into Lebanon and into Syria,” he said.