Ankara says Turkey’s operation east of Euphrates not dependent on US withdrawal

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ANKARA, TURKEY - JUNE 25: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu addresses the Representatives of the American Muslim Community at the Foreign Ministry Building in Ankara, Turkey on June 25, 2018. Mustafa Kamaci / Anadolu Agency

Turkey’s planned military operation against a Kurdish militia in Syria does not depend on an American withdrawal from the region, Ankara said on Thursday, signaling that Turkey remains undeterred by US efforts to protect its local partners, Reuters reported.

The comments from Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu are the latest to highlight the deep divide between the two NATO allies over the implementation of President Donald Trump’s plan to bring home about 2,000 US troops stationed in Syria.

Trump’s plan, which has been clouded by mixed messages from himself and his administration, hinges on Turkish cooperation to secure a swathe of northeast Syria as the United States departs.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, this week tried to make the case for guarantees that Turkey would not harm the US-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia after the withdrawal — earning a stiff rebuke from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in return.

Washington has partnered with the YPG in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria, supplying it with weapons and training. Turkey, which considers the YPG a terrorist organization, has long seen that support as a betrayal.

“Our problem is this: There is a terrorist organization that poses a threat to us, and the United States supports them,” Çavuşoğlu said in an interview with Turkey’s NTV.

“Whether they pull out or not, we must do whatever is necessary against an organization that poses a threat to our national security.”

Trump’s abrupt decision last month to pull out of Syria sparked concern among officials in Washington and some Western allies, but it was lauded by Ankara.

“Bolton and others aren’t fans of withdrawing,” Çavuşoğlu said. “But what is important is the president’s — Trump’s — promises.”

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