Turkey to clear Syria of both YPG, ISIL: Erdoğan
Turkey will adopt a new operation strategy to eliminate both the YPG and ISIL from Syria as it postponed an already announced operation into the east of River Euphrates, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, cautiously welcoming and confirming the start of the United States’ pullout from Syria.
“We will be working on our operational plans to eliminate ISIL elements, which are said to remain intact in Syria, in line with our conversation with President [Donald] Trump. In other words, over the next months, we will adopt an operational style geared toward eliminating PKK-PYD elements and ISIL residues,” Erdoğan told a group of businessmen in Istanbul on Dec. 21 in his first public comment on the U.S. withdrawal.
It was Turkey’s first reaction after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw all American troops from Syria that have been there since 2013.
Erdoğan has referred to his phone conversation with Trump on Dec. 14 after which the U.S. leader had pushed the button for the complete withdrawal from Syria. The Turkish president confirmed that Trump asked him whether Turkey can eliminate ISIL in the event that the U.S. troops leave Syria. Erdoğan affirmed Turkey’s readiness and determination to get rid of “any kind of terrorist” that would pose a threat against its border.
“Our phone call with President Trump, along with contacts between our diplomats and security officials and statements by the United States, has led us to wait a little longer. Obviously, this is not an open-ended waiting period,” he stated.
Erdoğan said Turkey is “able to eliminate all terrorists” if the U.S. provides logistical support, stressing: “Our target is not to conduct our diplomatic ties in a healthy way. We have the Turkish army and the Free Syrian Army [FSA] capable of eliminating all these terror organizations, such as the PKK, YPG and the PYD, just like we eliminated 3,000 ISIL members in Jarablus.”
‘On the same page with Trump’
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, diplomatic contacts with the United States had left Turkey disappointed, as Ankara says the Trump administration inherited problems that Turkey experienced particularly during Barack Obama’s presidency.
“In face-to-face meetings and phone calls, President Trump and I have seen that we thought similarly and shared the same views on a range of issues related to the Syrian question. Yet the translation of that agreement to the ground was overdue and difficult. Finally, in recent days, we have been able to hear the clearest and most encouraging statements to date from the U.S. administration,” Erdoğan said.
Turkey, US should coordinate withdrawal
In the meantime, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Washington should coordinate with Ankara on the pullout.
“With regards to the withdrawal, the decision of the United States to withdraw from Syria, we welcome that decision and Turkey fully supports the territorial integrity of Syria,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters in Malta during an official visit.
“We need to coordinate this withdrawal with the United States; we are already in touch at different levels,” he added.
Erdogan said on Dec. 12 that Turkey might start a new military operation in Syria to sweep the YPG. Turkey has repeatedly voiced frustration over what it says is the slow implementation of a deal with Washington to pull the YPG out of Manbij.
“We have the Manbij road map, we discussed whether we can implement this by the time that U.S. forces withdraw,” Çavuşoğlu said, referring to the Manbij deal.
“So many issues that Turkey and the United States should coordinate on and there shouldn’t be any vacuum in the country that terrorist groups might also fill,” he added.
The two NATO allies have long been at odds over Syria, where Washington has backed the YPG, the Syrian branch of PKK. Ankara strongly opposes this cooperation as the PKK is listed as a terrorist organization in Turkey, as well as the U.S. and the EU.