U.S. will do everything to ensure Syrian Kurds are protected - Pompeo reiterates

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured American troops and political leaders in Iraq on Wednesday of the U.S. military withdrawal from Syria.

‘’The President’s decision to withdraw is very clear,’’ Pompeo said in response to a question on conflicting narratives from Washington on the surprise withdrawal announced by U.S. President Donald Trump on Dec. 19, while addressing members of the press at the U.S. Consulate General Erbil in Iraq. 

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton on Jan.6 announced that Washington would  pull out of Syria only after the Islamic State (ISIS) was completely uprooted, and the protection of the Kurdish forces in Syria was assured, in a statement that angered Ankara and caused confusion about U.S. plans in the region. 

Trump had announced last month that the task of battling the remnants of ISIS had been handed over to Turkey.

‘’We’re having conversations with them [Turkey and Kurds] even as we speak about how we will effectuate this in a way that protects our forces, makes sure that the Americans, as we withdraw, are safe, and we will complete the mission of taking down the last elements of the caliphate before we depart,’’ Pompeo said in response to a question on how the the U.S. withdrawal would take place.

Washington is looking to making sure that Ankara has ‘’no beef with the Kurds.’’ Once that is established,  ‘’we’ll make real progress,’’ Pompeo added.

Pompeo also repeated what he said about protecting Kurds last week, "folks that have fought with us and it’s important that we do everything we can to ensure that those folks that fought with us are protected.  And Erdogan has made commitments; he understands that – I think he uses the language – he talks about he has no beef with the Kurds."

Pompeo's remarks that the U.S. was going to do everything to ensure "Turks" would not "slaughter the Kurds" created a backlash in Turkey. 

News on the U.S. withdrawal arrived shortly after Erdoğan’s announcement of a Turkey’s third military operation into neighbouring Syria targeting the U.S.-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which have formed the backbone of Washington’s war on ISIS in the region.

Ankara designates the YPG a terrorist organisation that poses a threat to Turkey and has vowed to destroy it.

‘’We acknowledge that there is a threat to Turkey from terrorists and we will be very supportive,’’ Pompeo said on Wednesday. ‘’Any place we find extremists and terrorists, we’re prepared to support whatever country is ready to go after them.  That includes Turkey and others.’’

The Turkish president cancelled his meeting with Bolton on Tuesday, citing Bolton’s insistence on a withdrawal being conditional to Turkey pledging not to attack the YPG in Syria as unacceptable.