U.S. President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, said Sunday that the U.S. military withdrawal from northeastern Syria is conditioned on defeating the remnants of Daesh terrorist group, and on Turkey assuring the safety of fighters allied with the United States — the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the People's Protection Units (YPG) terrorists.
Bolton, who traveled to Israel to reassure the U.S. ally of the Trump-ordered withdrawal, said there is no timetable for the pullout of American forces in northeastern Syria, but insisted it's not an unlimited commitment.
"There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal," Bolton told reporters in Jerusalem. "The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement."
Bolton's comments mark the first public confirmation that the drawdown has been slowed, as Trump faced widespread criticism from allies and the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for a policy that was to have been conducted within weeks.
Trump announced in mid-December that the U.S. will withdraw all of its 2,000 forces in Syria.
Bolton, who is to travel on to Turkey on Monday, said the U.S. is insisting that the YPG terrorists are protected from any planned Turkish cross-border operation. He is to deliver a warning to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan this week.
"We don't think the Turks ought to undertake military action that's not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States," Bolton said.
Trump has stated that he would "not allow Turkey to kill the Kurds," Bolton said, referring to the YPG. "That's what the president said, the ones that fought with us."
In response to Bolton's remarks, Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın said it was irrational to claim Turkey targeted Kurds, saying Ankara's targets were the PKK, YPG and Daesh terrorists.
"To argue that a terrorist organization represents Kurds is, above all, disrespectful to our Kurdish brothers," Kalın said. "One of the goals of Turkey's struggle against the PKK and its Syrian offshoots is to save the Kurds from the tyranny and oppression of this terror group."
Bolton said the U.S. has asked the YPG terrorists to "stand fast now" and refrain from seeking protection from Russia or Bashar Assad's regime. He said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford would continue negotiations with his Turkish counterparts this week to seek protection for the PKK-linked terrorists in northern Syria.
He added that Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, who has been serving since August as the special representative for Syrian engagement and was named last week as the American special envoy for the anti-Daesh coalition, would travel to Syria this week in an effort to reassure the YPG terrorists that they are not being abandoned.
Bolton said U.S. troops would remain at the critical are of al-Tanf, in southern Syria, to counter growing Iranian activity in the region. He defended the legal basis for the deployment, saying it's justified by the president's Constitutional authority, adding "I'm a strong believer in Article II."
The U.S. support for the YPG, which is a Syrian offshoot of the PKK, has long been a source of tension between NATO allies U.S. and Turkey.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S., the EU and NATO. The PKK has been fighting the Turkish state for the last 40 years in a conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives. Turkey considers the YPG's presence on its border with Syria a grave threat to its national security.
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