Pompeo: We’ll ensure 'Turks don’t slaughter Kurds;' Bolton visits Israel, Turkey

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo affirmed on Thursday that the US would protect Kurds in Syria against a Turkish attack.
author_image Laurie Mylroie

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo affirmed on Thursday that the US would protect Kurds in Syria against a Turkish attack.

In an interview with the conservative website, Newsmax, Pompeo emphasized that President Donald Trump had affirmed “the importance of ensuring that the Turks don’t slaughter the Kurds” as US forces are withdrawn from Syria.

Pompeo’s statement reiterated earlier US pledges not to abandon the Kurds, who have been America’s most important partner in fighting the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina), a leading voice on national security issues and an important Trump ally on Capitol Hill, met with the President. Afterward, Graham explained that Trump remained committed to three goals in Syria, including that “our Kurdish allies are protected.”

On Wednesday, in a press conference following the first cabinet meeting of 2019, Trump was asked about his timetable for withdrawing US forces from Syria. He reaffirmed his intention to withdraw those forces, but declined to provide a timetable, while he made a special point of affirming, “We want to protect the Kurds.”

Pompeo’s statement thus marked the third time in less than a week that a senior US official has expressed an American commitment to protecting the Kurds. However, left unsaid was just how that would be achieved as US troops depart.

National Security Adviser Amb. John Bolton is leaving Washington on Friday to visit Israel and Turkey in order “to discuss the withdrawal of US forces from Syria,” he tweeted late on Thursday.

Bolton’s tweet lists the administration’s three objectives in Syria that he will discuss in Jerusalem and Ankara, and they start with “how we will work with allies & partners to prevent the resurgence of ISIS.”

The second US objective, as listed in Bolton’s tweet, is to “stand fast with those who fought with us against ISIS,” presumably in reference to the main US partner in Syria, namely the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF.)

And the third objective is to “counter Iranian malign behavior in the region.”

Those are, essentially, the same goals described by Sen. Graham following his meeting with Trump on Sunday.

Israel is particularly concerned that Iran will exploit any vacuum left by a US troop withdrawal.

Pompeo met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, when both men were in Brazil to attend the inauguration of the country’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro.

In remarks to the press before their meeting, Pompeo stated that the decision to withdraw US forces from Syria “in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel.”

“Our commitment to Middle East stability and the protection of Israel continues in the same way,” Pompeo affirmed.

However, at least some Israelis are not convinced. “We are in a state of shock,” Israel’s largest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, quoted a “senior Israeli source” as saying on Thursday. “Trump simply doesn’t understand the extent of the Iranian military presence in the region.”

Similarly, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which provide the SDF’s military leadership, may turn to Moscow and Damascus to buttress the assurances it receives from Washington about protection against Turkish attack.

Bolton explained that he will be joined in Ankara by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, as well as Amb. James Jeffrey, US Special Envoy for Syria Engagement.

Asked by Newsmax if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was “reliable as an ally,” Pompeo gave an ambivalent reply.

“There are places where they’re very supportive of the things that Americans care about,” he said, but “there are other places [where] we have real concerns,” as he cited, in particular, “Americans that are still being held” in Turkey.

Pompeo also stressed that the protection of religious minorities in Syria would remain a US priority, even after the troop withdrawal.

Editing by Nadia Riva