Groans of anger and frustration have been coming from Turkey over America’s shifting policy in Syria. President Donald Trump abruptly announcement last month that he was bringing home the roughly 2,000 troops in the Arab Republic, saying they had succeeded in their mission to defeat Daesh. It sparked concern among officials in Washington and allies abroad and prompted Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to resign.
The announcement followed a conversation between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The latter is believed to have been given a green light to launch a military operation against Kurdish fighters (YPG) in Syria after giving a number of assurances to the US President that convinced him to pull US troops from Syria.
American officials have since tried to row back and undo the damage to US reputation. The criticism prompted Trump to later announce that the United States would get out of Syria “over a period of time” and that it wants to protect the US-backed Kurdish fighters in the country. The remarks were widely seen as US efforts to back-track.
Trump insisted that he had not changed his mind, despite two high level resignations in protest of his December decision to pull US troops. Yesterday the White House even sought to save face by making the case that Trump was not shifting his policy on a weekly basis.
The US also dispatched one of its heavyweights, National Security Advisor John Bolton, to Turkey. He arrived in Ankara yesterday with a delegation to discuss the withdrawal of American troops from Syria.
Bolton, who is widely regarded as a hawk in the Trump administration, arrived from Israel where he poured water over Trump’s initial comments. “We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States,” Bolton said on Sunday, adding that the US president has made clear that he would not allow Turkey to kill the Kurds.
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar hit back at Bolton on Twitter that Turkey’s fight isn’t against Kurds but against Kurdish rebels and Daesh militants posing a threat to all ethnic groups.
During Bolton’s visit to Ankara, a colour-coded map was carried by US officials highlighting the zones where Turkish soldiers are “prohibited” from entering, in order to “share control” with Kurds in eastern Syria. Turkish sources reported that officials in Ankara compared the map to the Sykes-Picot plan, which laid out France and Britain’s spheres of influence in the Middle East 100 years ago following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.
Signalling a rift between the US and Turkey, Erdogan chided Bolton over the revised plan and asked Washington to hand over its bases in Syria as the Trump administration is thought to have initially promised.
In a scathing speech to parliament, delivered while Bolton was still in the Turkish capital, Erdogan is reported to have said that the US envoy had “made a serious mistake” and that Turkey would never agree to a compromise that protected the Kurdish militia, whose members helped a US-led coalition to push Daesh out of most of eastern Syria.
“Elements of the US administration are saying different things,” said Erdogan. “The YPG and the PKK can never be representatives of the Kurdish people.”
Ankara views the YPG as a terror organisation belonging to the PKK; an organisation that is listed as a terror group in Turkey, Europe as well as the US. The Turkish leader said Ankara’s military had finished preparations to enter Syria and that Washington was stalling on its commitment.