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14 January 2019, 07:09 | Devin Moran
US withdrawal from Syria begins after contradictory messages from John Bolton and Mike Pompeo
"Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds", Trump tweeted on Sunday, while pushing for the creation of a 20-mile (30-km) "safe zone".
He said the USA envoy for Syria, Jim Jeffrey, had traveled to northeast Syria this week and would soon go to Ankara for talks, including on moving forward a UN-led political process to end the eight-year long conflict in Syria.
Their exit has not just alarmed the nation's Kurds, but even Christians in the country are afraid of what could happen after the US troops leave, says Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria and a USA representative of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US -backed Kurdish group.
Pompeo also said the withdrawal of US troops from Syria was a "tactical change" and does not alter USA military capacity to counter Daesh and Iran. "Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms", Trump said, using a different acronym for IS.
However, Bolton later said that the U.S.' withdrawal would be subject to defeating Daesh remnants, and Turkey assuring the safety of fighters allied with the US, i.e. the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the YPG.
It's a stark threat toward an ally in the region that has partnered with the United States in the fight against ISIS. His declaration of victory against ISIS was far from unanimous, and officials said USA defense and military leaders were trying to dissuade him from ordering the withdrawal right up until the last minute.
But Trump's announcement in December raised fears of a long-threatened Turkish assault against the Kurdish fighters. He then added: "Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey".
Turkey had rejected the USA claim that the Syrian Kurds were represented by the YPG, which Ankara sees as a terrorist organization.
Turkey had reacted angrily to suggestions that Trump's plan to withdraw troops was conditional on the safety of the US-backed Kurdish fighters, seen by the Turkish government as terrorists.
"Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions", he began.
In an apparent gesture to save face, following a questionable outcome of four years of uninvited American presence in Syria and an abrupt withdrawal, Trump has once-again credited the U.S. military for destroying IS, disregarding the fact that most of the country was liberated from terrorists by the Syrian army, with the help of the Russian military.
"We have no problems with our Kurdish brothers, Arab brothers in Syria, Turkmens and other ethnic and religious groups". "We also benefit but it is now time to bring our troops back home".
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed Sunday that Israel had struck hundreds of Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria over the weekend, including a weapons facility, as the Israeli Defense Forces announced the discovery of a sixth and final tunnel dug by the Lebanese militant group for cross-border attacks.
Colonel Sean Ryan, the coalition spokesman, said: "The SDF is making great progress and continues to liberate more territory once held by ISIS (Islamic State), but the fight continues".
Sousan said intensified dialog was important when set against challenges, "especially the expansionist ambitions that lead the policies of the Turkish regime".
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