Turkey, Politics

US delegation due in Turkey to discuss Syria pullout

Turkey-US Joint Working Group works to coordinate pullout of American troops from Syria

Sena Guler, Sibel Ugurlu   | 25.02.2019
US delegation due in Turkey to discuss Syria pullout

By Selen Temizer


The next meeting of the Turkey-U.S. Joint Working Group, tasked to coordinate the American troop withdrawal from Syria, will be held in Ankara on Feb. 28-March 1, according to a diplomatic source.

The U.S. pullout from Manbij, the east of the Euphrates, will top the agenda during the meeting, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

The group is operating as a sub-unit of the Syria Working Group established in February 2018 between Turkey and the U.S.

The U.S. has currently more than 2,000 troops deployed in Syria.

On Thursday, the White House said 200 troops will remain in Syria as part of a peacekeeping effort. However, a report published by The Washington Post said 400 troops will remain, with 200 in northeast Syria and another 200 at the al-Tanf garrison in southern Syria.

The base at al-Tanf has been viewed by some within the administration as a critical foil to Iran establishing a land route from Tehran to Damascus via Iraq.

Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said on Feb. 11 that pullout is likely to begin within weeks and that he expects no increase in U.S. troops in Iraq.

On the other hand, according to the American officials, the pullout is expected to be completed until 2019 summer, which will be driven by the situation on the ground.

Turkey against coalition

On Feb. 13, the Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said Washington will establish a multinational observer force to take its place in northeastern Syria.

A Turkish official, who spoke anonymously due to restrictions on talking to the media, recalled that Turkey is still a member of the U.S.-led coalition to fight against Daesh.

The official stressed the U.S. intention to give Turkey a symbolic place in the coalition observer force to prevent the country from having a powerful military presence in northeastern Syria.

Turkey, however, plans to push YPG/PKK at least 30-40 kilometers (18-24 miles) south of its border and to take military measures to block the terror group.

- US-Turkey joint investigations in Manbij continue

In line with the Manbij roadmap, joint investigations by Turkey and the U.S. are ongoing for the restructuring of civil and military councils in northern Syrian town of Manbij.

The Manbij deal between Turkey and the U.S. focuses on the withdrawal of YPG/PKK terrorists from the city to stabilize the region, which is located in the northern part of Syria’s Aleppo province.

Turkey wants quick realization of information sharing over the names and opposes the ones linked with the YPG/PKK to take posts in administrative units.

Turkish authorities stressed that the administration in Manbij, of which 85-90 percent of population is Arabs, should be balanced in accordance with the demographic structure in the region.

In order to implement the plan, the U.S. needs to push around 1,000 armed YPG/PKK members out of the city, the officials said.

- Right to self-defense

During negotiations in Ankara and Washington, Turkish delegation warned that if the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria occurred before reaching a mutual agreement in line with Turkey’s security concerns, Ankara would reserve its right to self-defense.

Since Washington declared the pullout decision in mid-December, Turkey has been drawing attention to the vacuum of power that the withdrawal process could create in the region.

Once the U.S. pulls out from the field, Bashar al-Assad regime forces, Iran and even Russian military police could enter the area unless there is an agreement with Ankara reached before the withdrawal.

Such a situation would put President Donald Trump administration in a though situation in front of the internal and external public opinion.

Days after the pullout decision of the U.S., the YPG/PKK invited Assad regime forces to west of Manbij and handed over the control.

One of the primary demands of Turkey from the U.S. in the withdrawal process is taking back the weapons and ammunition it gave to the YPG/PKK.

Washington pledged to recollect weapons from the YPG/PKK after their fight against Daesh.

Turkey does not want bases to fall into the hands of the terrorists after the withdrawal, and it demands either destruction of them or to be handed over to Turkish army.

Turkey vowed to carry out a counter-terror operation in Syria, east of the Euphrates, following two similar successful operations since 2016.

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- recognized as a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S., and the EU -- has been responsible for the deaths of some 40,000 people, including women and children. The YPG/PYD is the group's Syrian branch.

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