Kurds ask US for clarifications over Syria withdrawal
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Kurds ask US for clarifications over Syria withdrawal

After US national security adviser Bolton says in Israel that pullout will be slower than Trump announced, source says Kurds are being kept in the dark

A line of US military vehicles drive through a checkpoint of the Internal Security Forces in Manbij as they head to their base on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city on December 30, 2018. (Delil SOULEIMAN/AFP)
A line of US military vehicles drive through a checkpoint of the Internal Security Forces in Manbij as they head to their base on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city on December 30, 2018. (Delil SOULEIMAN/AFP)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syria’s Kurds are awaiting clarifications from the US over its plans to pull out its troops from Syria, following comments made by a top White House aide that appeared to contradict earlier comments by US President Donald Trump, a Syrian Kurdish official said Monday.

Speaking to The Associated Press from northern Syria Monday, Badran Ciya Kurd said the Kurds have not been informed of any change in the US position and were in the dark about the latest comments by US national security adviser John Bolton and what they indicated.

“We have not been formally or directly notified, all what we heard were media statements,” he said.

Bolton, on a visit to Israel Sunday, said US troops will not leave northeastern Syria until IS jihadists are defeated and American-allied Kurdish fighters are protected. The comments appeared to put the brakes on a withdrawal abruptly announced by Trump last month and initially expected to be completed within weeks.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (not pictured) at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, January 6, 2019. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

While Bolton said there is now no timetable, Trump reaffirmed his commitment to withdrawing US troops, though the president said “I never said we’re doing it that quickly” and added that there will not be a total pullout “until ISIS is gone.”

Trump had said in his December 19 withdrawal announcement that US forces “have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

Fighters from the Kurdish women’s protection units (YPJ) attend the funeral of an Arab fighter of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the town of Tal Tamr in the countryside of Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province on December 21, 2018. (Delil Souleiman/AFP)

The back and forth are troubling for the Kurds, who have been America’s only partners on the ground in Syria in the fight against IS. Trump’s decision last month drew widespread criticism from allies — including Israel — led to the resignation of US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and raised fears over clearing the way for a Turkish assault on the Kurdish fighters. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a terrorist group linked to an insurgency within its own borders.

Bolton is set to arrive in Turkey on Monday, accompanied by the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, for talks with government officials.

Bolton said the US wants its Kurdish allies in Syria protected from any planned Turkish offensive — a warning to be delivered to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ciya Kurd said Bolton, through his comments, acknowledged that Turkey was killing the Kurds and that he wants guarantees that this would not happen.

“Turkey constitutes a bigger threat to Kurdish existence than Daesh and all international terrorist organizations,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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