President Trump’s national security adviser said on Sunday the US military withdrawal from northeastern Syria is conditioned on finishing off the armed group ISIL and on Turkey assuring the safety of Kurdish troops allied with the United States as reported by Al Jazeera.
John Bolton, who traveled to Israel to reassure the US ally of the Trump-ordered withdrawal, said there is no timetable for the pullout of American forces in northeastern Syria, but insisted it’s not an unlimited commitment.
“There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” Bolton told reporters in Jerusalem. “The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”
Those conditions, he said, included the defeat of remnants of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria, and protection for Kurdish militias who have fought alongside US troops against the group.
“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States at a minimum 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,” he told reporters.
Bolton was deployed to Israel to allay concerns about Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria and discuss the process with Turkish officials.
The pullout announced last month was initially expected to be completed within weeks, but the timetable has slowed as the president acceded to requests from aides, allies and members of US Congress for a more orderly withdrawal.
Bolton’s comments mark the first public confirmation that the withdrawal has been slowed.
Israeli officials have expressed concern that a swift withdrawal of the roughly 2,000 troops could enable Iran to expand its influence and presence in war-torn Syria.
“There is a great concern among US allies in the region about what is the next step,” said Yossi Mekelberg, professor of international relations at Regent’s University London.
“The Trump administration’s message is completely incoherent. On the one hand, the Trump administration is talking about more pressure on Iran vis-a-vis the nuclear issue. But the withdrawal leaves Syria open to Russia and Iran,” he told Al Jazeera.
Trump’s move has also raised fears about clearing the way for a Turkish assault on Kurdish fighters in Syria who have fought alongside American troops against ISIL.
Turkey considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) a “terrorist” group linked to Kurdish fighters within its own borders.
“Top on Turkey’s list is the disarmament of the Kurdish YPG fighters,” said Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from Gaziantep on Turkey’s border with Syria.
“Turkey wants them disarmed and removed from the areas near its border with Syria. Turkey also wants logistical and air support from the US, once the troop withdrawal is complete. Turkish officials will want John Bolton to come up with a clear timetable for withdrawal.”