Will Turkey invade Syria?

Top US officials on ‘damage control’ mission in Middle East following Donald Trump’s pledge to withdraw troops

Syrian fighters gather in the north to defend Kurds from a long-threatened Turkish assault
(Image credit: AFP/Getty Images)

US National Security Adviser John Bolton is expected to ask for a guarantee that Turkey will not invade Syria to attack Kurds, during tense talks in Ankara today.

Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are criss-crossing the Middle East for a series of meetings aimed at “damage control” following President Donald Trump announcement’s that the remaining US troops will be withdrawn from Syria, says Vox.

Speaking in Israel on Sunday, the US security chief laid out conditions for the withdrawl, which include fully defeating Islamic State and securing a promise from Turkey that it will not attack Syrian Kurdish forces.

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The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish Protection Units (YPG), has fought Isis alongside US troops and special forces from the UK and France.

But the YPG also has “strong links with Kurdish Workers’ party (PKK) militants in Turkey, a source of constant tension between Ankara and Washington”, explains The Guardian.

The presence of US forces had acted as a deterrent to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has long been threatening a new offensive against the Kurds, so “their withdrawal makes it more likely Turkish forces will move ahead with their attack”, says The Daily Telegraph.

Following Trump’s announcement, in December, the SDF appealed for help from the Assad regime, which swiftly sent military forces to the front line.

Responding to the US bid to secure assurances about the safety of Kurdish allies, Erdogan said yesterday that he “cannot accept Bolton’s messages given from Israel”, adding that the national security adviser had made a “serious mistake”.

Turkey has dismissed as “irrational” claims that it is targeting Kurds in general. Ankara insists it is concerned only with “terrorists” in organisations such as the YPG who are “oppressing Kurds who don’t obey them”.

Meanwhile, analysts have told the Financial Times that the Turkish government has “little incentive to agree to US demands given the shifting dynamics that are likely to follow the exit of an estimated 2,000 US troops”.

As former Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen explained: “There is no reason for this government, or any government in Ankara, to listen to what Washington DC has to say if they know that at some point - whether in one month or three months - they will be leaving.”

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