Signalling a significant policy shift, the Trump administration has started withdrawing its soldiers numbering more than a thousand from northern Syria as Turkey began preparations for the launch of a military operation to remove US-backed Kurdish forces from the region, reports say.
Over the past many months, Washington had been trying for a patch-up between Turkey and Kurds. But those efforts failed as Ankara links Syrian Kurds to Kurdistan Workers’ Party which it regards as a terrorist group.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the US will not support or be involved in the Turkish operation.
The US forces have already fulfilled their mission of defeating the Islamic State (IS) with the support of Kurds a year ago and they will no longer remain in the area, Grisham said.
Turkey will now be responsible for all IS terrorists held captive during the past two years of military campaign against them, she said.
Before leaving on a two-day official visit to Serbia, Turkish President Erdogan said US soldiers began their pull-out hours after his conversation with Trump on the conflict. The two leaders are scheduled to meet in Washington next month.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cvusoglu, in a tweet, said his country is set to wipe out terrorists from the region.
This is essential for the territorial integrity, peace and stability of Syria and the security of Turkey, Cvusoglu wrote.
Turkey’s successful cross-border operation in northern Syria from August 2016 to March 2017 and the ongoing operation in majority Kurdish Afrin district have created a terrorist-free zone allowing Syrians who fled the civil war to return home, he said.
Clarifying on Turkey’s planned invasion, which may start in a day or two, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalın tweeted Ankara has no territorial ambitions over any Syrian region and its only concern is the safe return of refugees to the war-ravaged country.