Bolton: US won’t leave until Turkey guarantees to protect Syria’s Kurds

“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States.”

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The US will not withdraw forces from Syria, until Turkey provides a firm commitment that it will not attack the Kurds who have been America’s chief ally in the fight against the Islamic State there, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters in Jerusalem on Sunday.

The pace of the US troop withdrawal from Syria is based on achieving key, basic goals, he stated.

Bolton is in Israel to provide clarification and reassurances about the surprise US decision. Those discussions mostly involve Iran, as Israel is concerned that it will move into any vacuum created by the departure of US forces.

On Monday, Bolton will travel to Turkey, where he will be joined by Amb. James Jeffrey, Special Envoy for Syria Engagement, and Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Jeffrey will then go on to Syria to meet with America’s Kurdish allies, Bolton said.

“There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” Bolton explained. “The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”

The two key conditions Bolton specified are the protection of America’s Kurdish allies in Syria, along with the final defeat of the Islamic State.

“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States,” he added.

In meeting Turkish officials, Bolton will try “to find out what their objectives and capabilities are,” he explained, “and that remains uncertain.”

Indeed, US military officers, as well as some senior Turkish officers, do not believe the Turkish army has the ability to conduct operations against the remaining Islamic State elements in Syria. The terrorist group’s last Syrian stronghold is far to the south, and Turkey’s military has already asked for extensive US support for that mission.

Bolton stressed that US President Donald Trump will not allow Turkey to attack the Kurds. “That’s what the president said, the ones that fought with us,” Bolton affirmed.

The US is concerned that the Kurds will turn to Russia to secure support from the Syrian regime to protect them against Turkish assault.

Washington has asked the Kurds to “stand fast now,” Bolton said and to refrain from such a move. “I think they know who their friends are,” he added, as he explained that Jeffrey will travel to Syria to provide assurances that the US is not abandoning them.

Since late December, when US officials first began to clarify and elaborate on Trump’s surprise announcement of a US withdrawal, the protection of Syria’s Kurds has been a consistent condition.

On December 26, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina) met with Trump and then told reporters outside the White House that Trump would make sure “that our allies, the Kurds, are protected.” On January 2, Trump, himself, affirmed that position.

Both Trump and Bolton have long expressed sympathy with the Kurds. In September, at a press conference in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Trump described the Kurds as “great fighters,” adding, “I like them a lot,” while in September 2017, shortly before the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum, Bolton told Kurdistan 24 that, in his view, the US should respect its results.