Ankara - Turkey will take over the fight against Daesh (the so-called IS) militants in Syria as the United States withdraws its troops, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, in the latest upheaval wrought by Washington's abrupt policy shift.
The surprise announcement by US President Donald Trump this week that he would withdraw roughly 2,000 troops has felled a pillar of American policy in the Middle East. Critics say Trump's decision will make it harder to find a diplomatic solution to Syria's seven-year-old conflict. For Turkey, the step removes a source of friction with the United States. Erdogan has long castigated his NATO ally over its support for Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters against Islamic State. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group and an offshoot of the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), fighting for Kurdish autonomy across the border on Turkish soil.
In a speech in Istanbul, Erdogan said Turkey would mobilize to fight remaining Daesh forces in Syria and temporarily delay plans to attack Kurdish fighters in the northeast of Syria � shifts both precipitated by the American decision to withdraw.
The news was less welcome for other US allies. Both France and Germany warned that the US change of course risked damaging the campaign against Daesh, the militants who seized big swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014-15 but have now been beaten back to a sliver of Syrian territory.
Likewise, the US-backed militia spearheaded by the YPG said a Turkish attack would force it to divert fighters from the battle against Daesh to protect its territory. Daesh launched an attack in Syria's southeast against the US-backed SDF militia, employing car bombs and dozens of militants. We will be working on our operational plans to eliminate ISIS (Daesh) elements, which are said to remain intact in Syria, in line with our conversation with President Trump, Erdogan said.
The Turkish president had announced plans last week to start an operation east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria to oust the YPG from the area that it largely controls. This week, he said the campaign could come at any moment. But on Friday, he cited the talk with Trump as a reason to wait. Our phone call with President Trump, along with contacts between our diplomats and security officials and statements by the United States, have led us to wait a little longer, he said.
We have postponed our military operation against the east of the Euphrates river until we see on the ground the result of America's decision to withdraw from Syria.
Erdogan said, however, that this was not an open-ended waiting period and that, due to past negative experiences, Ankara welcomed the United States' statements with an equal amount of pleasure and caution. Turkey has repeatedly voiced frustration over what it says is the slow implementation of a deal with Washington to pull YPG fighters out of Manbij, a town in mainly Arab territory west of the Euphrates in northern Syria.
The United States will probably end its air campaign against Daesh in Syria when it pulls out troops, US officials have said. Erdogan's foreign minister said the withdrawal plan would be discussed by the two countries in Washington in January. Trump maintained that Daesh had been wiped out, a view not shared by key allies, that Washington had been doing the work of other countries and it was time for others to finally fight.
Source: International Islamic News Agency