Jan 30 2019

National Security Council statement reiterates Syria red lines

Turkey’s National Security Council has issued a statement focusing largely on developments in Syria after a five-hour meeting in Ankara on Wednesday.

The council, which shapes Turkey’s national security policy, had met to review events of the past year and shape policy for 2019. In the statement following the meeting it reiterated its “red lines” regarding Syrian Kurdish militants in what Turkish news portal Diken said was a “message to the United States.”

Ankara has threatened to attack forces loyal to the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria, a Kurdish group that has fought alongside U.S. troops in the battle against the Islamic State, but which Ankara views as a terrorist group due to its links to insurgent groups in Turkey.

U.S. President Donald Trump called for an immediate withdrawal of troops from northern Syria on December 19, but since then plans to withdraw have been delayed, largely due to disagreement from officials in Washington over the threat a withdrawal would pose to Kurdish allies.

“The National Security Council renewed (its) call for ending foreign support to terrorist groups and said the fight against all terror outfits will continue ‘uninterruptedly,’” Turkey’s state-run Anadolu agency reported.

The council also called for an end to foreign support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed multi-ethnic group in northern Syria that is allied to and includes many fighters from the YPG.

It said Turkey would continue to pursue its “roadmap” deal with the United States in Manbij, a northern Syrian area west of the Euphrates river where U.S. forces have been deployed alongside the YPG and SDF. The deal, struck last June, demanded the removal of the Kurdish forces from the area and established joint U.S.-Turkish patrols around its borders.

The statement said Turkey would continue striving to safeguard the existing situation in Idlib, the last Syrian province controlled by opposition groups. A deal struck in September last year prevented an impending invasion of the province by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The National Security Council also touched on Turkey’s pursuit of the outlawed Gülen religious movement, which the Turkish government blames for the failed July 2016 coup attempt. The statement said Turkey would continue to pursue members of the group within Turkey and internationally, and condemned countries it said had refused to extradite “terrorist fugitives.”

The movement’s leader, Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen, has been resident in the United States since 1999. The Turkish government has made several requests for his extradition since 2016 without success.

The National Security Council includes Turkey’s Chief of Staff, Yaşar Güler, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and members of Turkey’s cabinet.