Donald Trump to withdraw troops from northern Syria
Donald Trump will withdraw US troops from northern Syria, giving the green light to a contentious Turkish military operation in region and hand over responsibility for Isis fighters in the region to Ankara.
The US president spoke by phone on Sunday with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who voiced “frustration” at the lack of progress in talks between the two countries about the creation of a “safe zone” in a part of the country that is controlled by Kurdish militias backed by the US, according to the Turkish presidency.
A statement published by the White House following the call said a Turkish invasion was imminent. It added that the US military would not “support or be involved the operation”, but said US troops would “no longer be in the immediate area”.
The step appears to pave the way for a long-threatened Turkish incursion into Syria that will alarm Washington’s European allies. It will also infuriate many within the US military and security establishment, who blocked a previous promise by Mr Trump to withdraw all US troops from Syria.
Opponents of a Turkish invasion are concerned that an attack on Kurdish forces, which Ankara considers terrorists, will jeopardise the gains made by a US-led military coalition against Isis jihadis who once controlled a large swath of north-east Syria.
Those worries are likely to be exacerbated by the announcement that the US is handing over responsibility for captured Isis fighters to Turkey.
In its statement, the White House lambasted European nations for having “refused” to take back the hundreds of foreign fighters who are being held in the region’s overcrowded and squalid jails. “The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” it said. The White House said that Turkey would now be responsible for the roughly 6,000 captured Isis fighters in the area.