Trump asked Erdoğan if Turkey could clear the rest of Syria of ISIL
United States President Donald Trump did it again. His unpredictability has just become a norm when shaping U.S. foreign policy. Although he denies it was not a surprise move, Trump’s sudden decision for a complete pullout of all U.S. troops from Syria, despite the Pentagon’s continuous statements that the job has not been done yet, had an astonishing impact on the international community as well as regional actors.
When this column was being penned late afternoon on Dec. 20, Ankara was still tight-lipped on Trump’s decision. Ankara has taken this decision with caution as it first wants to see to what extent Trump’s order will be delivered by the Pentagon.
Senior Turkish officials have earlier told the Hürriyet Daily News that Ankara was well aware of Trump’s intention to remove all troops from Syria but he could not persuade the Pentagon to do so.
This, in fact, has been voiced by Trump a number of times throughout 2018 although senior Pentagon officials, as well as James Jeffrey, who is the special Syria representative of the State Department, were introducing an updated Syria policy that stipulates an indefinite presence of the U.S. troops in the war-torn country.
However, for Trump, the only reason to prolong the stay of U.S. troops in Syria was the fight against ISIL and the fact that the jihadist group was largely defeated left no room for the extension of the military mandate.
As Reuters reported, citing a U.S. official, Trump’s latest phone conversation with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Dec. 14 pushed him to give the final order for the withdrawal from Syria.
According to the same Turkish officials, Trump asked this following question to Erdoğan on the phone: Can Turkey clear the east of Euphrates of the rest of ISIL in the event that they withdraw from Syria?
The reason why Trump raised this question was Erdoğan’s continued criticisms on the U.S. partnership with the YPG on the fight against ISIL. Erdoğan once again reiterated Turkey’s belief that the YPG was not genuinely in the fight against the jihadist groups but was using this assumption as a pretext for its political ambitions in the east of Euphrates.
Therefore, Erdoğan reaffirmed that Turkey could fight against ISIL as it did in mid-2016 and neutralized around 4,000 jihadists as part of the Euphrates Shield Operation.
It was well-reported that Trump had pushed the button after his conversation with Erdoğan. But Ankara was notified of the decision a few days after, on Dec. 17. But senior Turkish officials still had suspicions about the move. “Saudis, Israelis, Europeans and, of course, Kurds are against the U.S. withdrawal. Pentagon and other parts of the establishment are not happy with the move,” the senior officials said, expressing their skepticism over the course of the developments.
It may well be suggested that the Turkish government will follow a wait-and-see process before recalibrating Turkey’s position in regards to Syria and re-assessing a military operation into the east of the Euphrates against the YPG.
There are some pending issues as well. For example, will the U.S. collect the weapons provided to the YPG? What measures will the U.S. take for preventing a chaos in the region after the withdrawal?
All these require more military and political talks between Turkey and the U.S. Turkey will continue to cautiously follow the situation in Syria.