Top U.S. officials are holding high level meetings in Middle East to assure its allies that withdrawal process of U.S. troops from Syria won’t lead to a power vacuum in the region.
“Part of what we want to see is no vacuum in northeast Syria that malign forces can take advantage of, so that will be a big part of discussions with the Turks,” White House national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday, WSJ reported.
Mr. Bolton is leading to a U.S. delegation which met with Israeli officials on Sunday, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to assure U.S. plans to withdraw from Syria won’t effect Trump administration’s commitment to being mindful of Israel’s security in this process. Israel’s top concern is that the U.S. move may increase appetite of Iran to spread across the region which will undermine it’s security.
Mr. Bolton’s next stop is Ankara, capital of Turkey, where he will meet with high level officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Tuesday.
“White House national security adviser will seek to determine ‘what the dispensary of the Turkish forces is going to be, how they relate to the opposition, and so on.” a senior administration official who is traveling with Mr. Bolton said, according to WSJ.
As a part of further plans after withdrawal from Syria, the U.S. could leave some troops at key military base al-Tanf, in southern Syria, and strive to maintain control of the airspace over northeastern Syria, added senior U.S. official . Morevover, “there is no timeline for the exact withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, but that doesn’t mean unlimited,” said Mr. Bolton.
Al-Tanf, a remote U.S. base in southern Syria where hundreds of U.S. and coalition forces are located, is strategically situated along a road that links Tehran to Damascus, via Baghdad. The presence of coalition forces in the base is indefinite and not part of withdrawal plans.
“There’s plenty of legal justification about concern for the resurgence of ISIS,” Mr. Bolton said.
The U.S. desire to control airspace, and the how Turkish forces will show its presence in northern Syria will be all discussed on Tuesday, senior U.S. official added.
Overall, though, US officials will discuss how to cooperate with Turkey in northeastern Syria, Mr. Bolton comes to Ankara with a firm condition of receiving a commitment from Mr. Erdogan not to attack Kurds after U.S. withdrawal.
He said Mr. Trump has told President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey that withdrawal is pending assurances that Turkey will protect Kurdish fighters who have long provided the U.S. with solid support in the campaign against Islamic State, adding, “I’m going to follow what the president said.”
Beside Mr. Bolton, U.S special envoy to Syria James Jeffrey is also holding crucial meetings in region, particularly with Syrian opposition.
Mr.Jeffrey and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford will join Mr. Bolton for talks in the Turkish capital on Tuesday. Gen. Dunford will remain in Turkey to continue talks with military counterparts, while Mr. Jeffrey will continue on to Syria to talk to the opposition forces, Syrian Democratic Forces.
On the other hand, Turkey distinctly dissociates from U.S. on the Trump administration’s requirement that Turkish forces would not attack Kurds in Syria.
“Claiming Turks are targeting Kurds is preposterous. Turkey’s targets are ISIS, and PKK/YPG/PYD terrorist organizations. Putting forth a terror group represents Kurdish is nothing, but insulting our Kurdish brothers,” Mr. Erdogan’s spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said in a written statement on Sunday.
As an effort not to trigger another armed violence in northeastern Syria, except fight against terrorism, Mr. Bolton said he may also hold talks with Russian counterparts, who have been staunch supporters of the Damascus regime.