Pentagon prepares for Syria withdrawal despite possible delay due to U.S.-Turkey rift

The U.S. military is pushing forward to withdraw American troops in Syria, despite a U.S.-Turkish rift that may delay the implementation of the decision announced by President Donald Trump last month, the U.S. defence officials told the Washington Post on Thursday.

During a visit to Ankara this week, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton failed to get assurances from the Turkish government that Turkey would not target U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria, after U.S. troops leave the country

Turkey sees Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has been fighting inside Turkey for more than 30 years.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Thursday that Ankara would go ahead with plans to launch a large-scale military operation against YPG-controlled areas in northeastern Syria, adding that Turkey’s decision and timeline was independent of the U.S. withdrawal.

The YPG forms the backbone of U.S.-backed ground forces fighting against Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Bolton said before his visit to Ankara that U.S. troops would not leave Syria until Turkey promised not to target Kurdish forces. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refused to meet Bolton as a result and the U.S. national security adviser only met his Turkish counterpart İbrahim Kalın. 

U.S. military officials told the Washington Post that the Pentagon had not received any new direction following the rift between two NATO allies and would proceed with withdrawal plans.

According to U.S. officials, scores of ground troops are headed toward Syria to help move American troops out.

A group of naval vessels headed by the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge, carrying hundreds of Marines, helicopters and other aircraft, is also headed to the region to back up U.S. troops when they leave Syria. 

On Thursday, a senior Trump administration official told the Washington Post that the United States was still working with Turkey to ensure that America’s Kurdish partners in Syria would not be targeted after the withdrawal. 

“The U.S. will withdraw troops from Syria in a strong, deliberate and coordinated manner, and seeks to ensure that the forces that have fought alongside coalition partners in the campaign against ISIS are not endangered,” the Washington Post quoted the U.S. official as saying. “As the president said, there is no specific timeline for that withdrawal.”

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said that there was no change in Trump administration’s decision to withdraw troops in Syria

“It is possible to hold in your head the thought that we would withdraw our uniformed forces from Syria and continue America’s crushing campaign,” Pompeo said, suggesting that the United States could continue to strike ISIS after the pullout.