U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, seated front row forth from left, participates in a virtual reality demonstration at the Western Wall on Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, in Jerusalem. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer are sitting alongside. (AP Photo/Zeke Miller)

Trump adviser outlines conditions for U.S. pullout from Syria

Trump had faced widespread criticism from allies about his decision to pull 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser said Sunday that the American military withdrawal from northeastern Syria is conditioned on defeating the remnants of the Islamic State group and on Turkey assuring the safety of U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters.

John Bolton said there is no timetable for the pullout, but insisted the military presence is not an unlimited commitment.

“There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” Bolton told reporters in Jerusalem before heading to Turkey on Monday, where he will be joined by the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. “The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”

Those conditions, he said, included defeating what’s left of IS in Syria and protecting Kurdish militias who have fought alongside U.S. troops against the extremist group.

Bolton’s comments were the first public confirmation that the drawdown has been slowed. Trump had faced widespread criticism from allies about his decision, announced in mid-December, that he was pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. Officials said at the time that although many details of the withdrawal had not yet been finalized, they expected American forces to be out by mid-January.

“We’re pulling out of Syria,” Trump said Sunday at the White House. “But we’re doing it and we won’t be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone.”

Trump’s move, which led to the resignation of U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, has raised fears over clearing the way for a Turkish assault on the Kurdish fighters. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a terrorist group linked to an insurgency within its own borders.

Bolton said the U.S. is insisting that its Kurdish allies in Syria are protected from any planned Turkish offensive — a warning he was expected to deliver to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, this week.

“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully co-ordinated with and agreed to by the United States,” Bolton said. He said that in upcoming meetings with Turkish officials he will seek “to find out what their objectives and capabilities are and that remains uncertain.”

Trump has made clear that he would not allow Turkey to kill the Kurds, Bolton said. “That’s what the president said, the ones that fought with us.”

Bolton said the U.S. has asked the Kurds to “stand fast now” and refrain from seeking protection from Russia or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. “I think they know who their friends are,” he added, speaking of the Kurds.

Jim Jeffrey, the special representative for Syrian engagement and the newly named American special envoy for the anti-Islamic State coalition, is to travel to Syria this coming week in an effort to reassure the Kurdish fighters that they are not being abandoned, Bolton said.

Turkey’s presidential spokesman called allegations that his country planned to attack the U.S.-allied Kurds in Syria “irrational” and said Turkey was fighting terrorism for national security.

In comments carried by the official Anadolu news agency, Ibrahim Kalin said the Kurdish fighters oppressed Syrian Kurds and pursued a separatist agenda under the guise of fighting IS. “That a terror organization cannot be allied with the U.S. is self-evident,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told ABC’s “This Week” that the conditions raised by Bolton were “obvious,” and Smith criticized the conflicting messages from the Trump administration.

“We don’t want ISIS to rise again and be a transnational terrorist threat and we don’t want our allies, the Kurds, to be slaughtered by Erdogan in Turkey,” said Smith, D-Wash.

Bolton said U.S. troops would remain at the critical area 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.

The U.S. is also seeking a “satisfactory disposition” for roughly 800 IS prisoners held by the U.S.-backed Syrian opposition, Bolton said, adding talks were ongoing with European and regional partners about the issue.

Bolton was to have dinner with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Sunday to discuss the pace of the U.S. drawdown, American troop levels in the region, and the U.S. commitment to push back on Iranian regional expansionism.

READ MORE: B.C. ‘adventure’ traveller detained in Syria, missing for more than one month

Bolton was expected to explain that some U.S. troops based in Syria to fight IS will shift to Iraq with the same mission and that the al-Tanf base would remain.

Bolton also was to convey the message that the United States is “very supportive” of Israeli strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, according to a senior administration official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss Bolton’s plans before the meetings and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Bolton on Sunday also toured the ancient tunnels beneath the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. He watched a virtual reality tour of the historic site and dined there with his Israeli equivalent, as well as U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer.

Visiting American officials typically avoid holding official meetings in parts of east Jerusalem, which is contested between Israelis and Palestinians. Trump, however, also toured the area in a previous visit.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem after capturing it from Jordan in the 1967 war, a move not recognized by most of the international community. Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

___

Associated Press writers Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul and Catherine Lucey in Washington contributed to this report.

Zeke Miller, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Nanaimo mall evacuation sparked by 15-year-old with imitation gun

Police say Monday’s ‘dynamic scene’ at Woodgrove Mall handled calmly

Worried about bats? Here’s what to do if you come across one in B.C.

Bat expert with the BC Community Bat Program urges caution around the small creatures

Vancouver Island mom headed to overseas court in bid to reclaim daughter

Nanaimo’s Tasha Brown says her estranged wife abducted their daughter Kaydance Etchells in 2016

Wolves not gnawing into Island’s prey population

Forestry practices, not predation, blamed for reduced numbers in prey animals

South Island nursery cleared to sell ‘less than half’ of plants following sweeping quarantine

Single plant found with infected spores on July 3 put 100,000 plants at risk

VIDEO: Reports say Lashana Lynch is the new 007

Daniel Craig will reprise his role as Bond one last time

Push on to establish Vancouver Island as an arts powerhouse

Island-wide conversation underway on how the arts and culture can amplify economic development

B.C. adding fast-charge stations for electric highway trips

Okanagan, Vancouver Island, Kootenay stations ready for use

Statistics Canada warns of ‘deteriorating market conditions’ in Greater Victoria

Housing prices dropped 0.4 per cent in May 2019, according to Statistics Canada

Island exports focus of keynote at Economic Summit in Nanaimo

Peter Hall, vice president and chief economist with (EDC) is one of four keynote speakers

Views, brews and food on Gulf Islands craft beer cruise

Five day cruise from Sidney to Gulf Islands, includes chef and beer historian

Victoria businesses remain plastic-bag free, despite court ruling

Business association says no one has inquired into re-establishing the use of plastic bags

Bathtubbing’s ‘Mom’ honoured for a lifetime supporting the sport

Longtime Nanaimo volunteer Margaret Johnson depicted on souvenir coins and named parade marshal

South Island’s Deep Cove Chalet set to re-open following fire

North Saanich eatery says July 24 will be ‘business as normal’ following rebuild

Most Read