Kurds in Syria get assurance as US rows back on Trump plan

US indicates troop withdrawal will be slower than suggested suddenly by president

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton: “The primary point is we are going to withdraw from northeastern Syria.” Photograph: Kevin Lamarque

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton: “The primary point is we are going to withdraw from northeastern Syria.” Photograph: Kevin Lamarque

 

US forces will remain in northeastern Syria until Turkey agrees not to go after the Kurds, national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday, insisting that President Donald Trump was committed to protecting opposition allies.

“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States, ” Mr Bolton told reporters in Israel, ahead of a meeting this week in Turkey with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “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.”

Two weeks ago, after Trump announced the withdrawal plan, Turkey’s military began deploying hundreds of vehicles and troops in areas surrounding the northwestern Syrian town of Manbij that Ankara has long pushed the US to clear of Kurdish militant groups. Turkey has repeatedly vowed to capture Manbij and to extend its offensive against the Kurds eastwards, but US troops were a major obstacle.

Surprise announcement

Mr Bolton’s claim follows a backlash from US lawmakers and other states that the Kurds’ fate was left in doubt by Mr Trump’s surprise announcement last month that he would quickly withdraw. Mr Trump has since indicated the withdrawal would be slower than initially suggested, although Mr Bolton on Sunday rejected any specific timetable.

“This is a cause-and-effect mission,” Mr Bolton said. “Timetables or the timing of the withdrawal occurs as a result of the fulfilment 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.”

Mr Bolton said the withdrawal from Syria would not involve setting a target date, as he said Barack Obama did in Afghanistan. “The primary point is we are going to withdraw from northeastern Syria,” he said.

Mr Bolton asserted Mr Trump’s broad authority to protect US interests “anywhere around the world”. Asked about the authority to maintain US forces at al-Tanf in Syria, Mr Bolton said: “There’s plenty of legal justification about concern for the resurgence of Isis,” Mr Bolton said.

Mr Bolton on Sunday said the US guidance to the Kurds is “stand fast now”. While acknowledging meetings last week in Moscow with Russian and Turkish leaders, Mr Bolton said, “My impression is those meetings in Moscow did not go well. I think they know who their friends are.” – Bloomberg