US lacks strategy on Syria: Turkish FM
The United States lacks strategy on the withdrawal of its soldiers from Syria, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said, referring to Washington’s recent decision to keep 400 troops on the ground as peacekeeping forces.
Speaking to journalists after an election meeting in the capital Ankara yesterday, Çavuşoğlu recalled a meeting of the Turkey-U.S. Joint Working Group in Washington on Feb. 6, in which a decision to form a joint task force was made.
The next meeting of the Turkey-U.S. Joint Working Group, tasked to coordinate the American troops withdrawal from Syria, will be held in Ankara between Feb. 28 and March 1.
“This task force only focuses on the withdrawal. The roadmap on Manbij and other issues are being held within the scope of the joint working group,” Çavuşoğlu said.
The U.S. pullout from Manbij, which Turkey often refers to as the east of the Euphrates River, will top the agenda during the meeting, according to a source quoted by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency on Feb. 26.
The U.S. currently has more than 2,000 troops deployed in Syria.
On Feb. 21, the White House said 200 troops will remain in Syria as part of a peacekeeping effort. However, a report published by The Washington Post said 400 troops will remain, with 200 in northeast Syria and another 200 at the al-Tanf garrison in southern Syria.
Çavuşoğlu also stated that after the pullout announcement different decisions and behaviors were manifested by Washington.
“In essence, this indicated the fact that the U.S. lacks a strategy on Syria. We tried to help them on this matter. They also agree on the coordination issue with us but we need a common understanding on safe zone and other topics. Joint working group meets with this purpose. In the meetings, both sides will share thoughts and prospects of what to do,” Çavuşoğlu said.
On Feb. 13, Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said Washington will establish a multinational observer force to replace U.S. military in northeastern Syria.
A Turkish official, who spoke anonymously due to restrictions on talking to the media, said Turkey is still a member of the U.S.-led coalition fighting against ISIL.
The official stressed the U.S. intention to give Turkey a symbolic place in the coalition observer force to prevent the country from having a powerful military presence in northeastern Syria.
Turkey, however, plans to push YPG militants at least 30-40 kilometers (18-24 miles) south of its border and to take military measures to block them.
The YPG dominates the SDF, an umbrella group acting as the ground armed forces of the anti-ISIL coalition. However, Turkey deems the YPG as an offshoot of the illegal PKK which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU.
In line with the Manbij roadmap, joint investigations by Turkey and the U.S. are ongoing for the restructuring of civil and military councils in the northern Syrian town of Manbij.
The Manbij deal between Turkey and the U.S. focuses on the withdrawal of YPG militants from the city to stabilize the region, which is located in the northern part of Syria’s Aleppo province.
Turkey wants the quick realization of information sharing over the names and opposes the ones linked with the YPG taking posts in administrative units.
Turkish authorities urge the new administration to be set up in accordance with the demographic structure in what it says is an Arabic-majority region.
In order to implement the plan, the U.S. needs to push around 1,000 armed YPG members out of the city, the officials said.
During negotiations in Ankara and Washington, the Turkish delegation warned that if the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria occurred before reaching a mutual agreement in line with Turkey’s security concerns, Ankara would reserve its right to self-defense.