A military operation against the Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey has pledged to carry out in northern Syria, is not dependent on a U.S. pull-out from the region, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday.
“If the [pullout] is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision,” Çavuşoğlu said, referring to Turkey's threat to launch an incursion into Kurdish controlled Syria.
In an interview with broadcaster NTV, Cavusoglu said it was not realistic to expect the United States to fully collect weapons it gave to its YPG ally, which Ankara views as a terrorist group.
The U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria will not be scuppered despite Turkish threats against Washington's Kurdish allies there, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, promising to ensure that the Kurds would still be protected.
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Pompeo tries to reassure allies
Pompeo met leaders in Iraq's capital and its semi-autonomous Kurdistan region on Wednesday, aiming to reassure them about Washington's plans following President Donald Trump's surprise announcement last month of an abrupt withdrawal from Syria.
The unannounced visits to Baghdad and the Kurdish regional capital Erbil came on the second day of a Middle East tour also taking in Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman.
Pompeo has the task of explaining U.S. policy in the region after Trump's announcement of the withdrawal of all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, which rattled allies and came as a shock to top U.S. officials. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis quit over it.
The U.S. forces have been working with a Kurdish militia to fight against Islamic State. The Kurds control a swath of northeastern Syria, Washington's foothold in a conflict that has drawn in Russia, Iran, Turkey and other regional powers.
Washington has repeatedly said its Kurdish allies will remain safe despite the withdrawal. But Turkey, which considers the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia an enemy, has repeatedly vowed to crush the group and repudiated any suggestion of protecting it once U.S. troops leave.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan denounced visiting U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton on Tuesday for suggesting that protecting the Kurds would be a pre-condition of the U.S. withdrawal, a suggestion Erdogan called "a serious mistake".
Asked in Erbil if Erdogan's pushback on the protection of the Kurds puts the withdrawal at risk, Pompeo told reporters: “No. We’re having conversations with them even as we speak about how we will effectuate this in a way that protects our forces...
"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," Pompeo added.