A Turkish official has said that his country will launch an attack against Kurdish forces in Syria whether or not U.S. forces pull out first. The United States had been trying to reassure its Kurdish allies that they would be safe following a U.S. withdrawal from the region.
What's the context?
On Dec. 19, President Donald Trump announced in a tweet that ISIS in Syria had been defeated. The same day, the White House said that the United States would be removing all its troops from Syria.
This was quickly met with criticism, including from some GOP senators who demanded that Trump not abandon the U.S. allies.
Turkey has had trouble with a Kurdish militant group within its own borders known as the PKK. Because of this, it views all ethnic Kurdish groups as terrorists. Turkey has used the instability caused by the Syrian civil war to launch incursions against Kurdish positions in Syria, pulling Kurdish fighters from helping the U.S. fight ISIS so that they can defend their own territory.
On Dec. 21, Turkey agreed to temporarily hold off its assault on the Kurds until U.S. troops had left the country.
What happened now?
The Guardian reported Thursday that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told NTV television:
If the [U.S. troop withdrawal] is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision.
"We are determined on the field and at the table," Cavusoglu said. "We will decide on its timing and we will not receive permission from anyone."
On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said that U.S. national security adviser John Bolton was making a "serious mistake" by placing the safety of U.S. allies in Syria as a condition of U.S. withdrawal.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that despite Erdogan's threats, U.S. troops would still withdraw from Syria, and the Kurds there would be safe.
"It's important that we do everything we can to make sure that those folks that fought with us are protected and Erdogan has made commitments, he understands that," he said.