Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has praised Donald Trump’s decision last month to pull US troops out of Syria but said the withdrawal must be done carefully and with the “right partners”.
In an op-ed article for The New York Times on Monday, a day before a scheduled meeting between Turkish officials and US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Erdogan expressed Turkey’s commitment to defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group and “other terrorist groups” in Syria.
“President Trump made the right call to withdraw from Syria. The United States withdrawal, however, must be planned carefully and performed in cooperation with the right partners to protect the interests of the United States, the international community and the Syrian people,” Erdogan wrote.
“Turkey, which has NATO’s second largest standing army, is the only country with the power and commitment to perform that task.”
In a surprise declaration, Trump on December 19 said that ISIL had been defeated in Syria and announced the withdrawal of 2,000 troops from the country.
The move left many questions open and appeared to signal a rapid withdrawal from Syria, alarming some allies such as France and Britain who warned that ISIL had not been defeated. It also heightened expectations that Turkey could launch a military operation targeting the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which has spearheaded the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against ISIL.
In recent days, Trump administration officials have made the clear that the troop withdrawal from northeastern Syria will not happen quickly.
And on Monday, Trump in an apparent reversal said the fight against ISIL was not over and that withdrawal would be done in a “prudent” manner.