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Turkey Warns against Power Vacuum in Syria

Turkey Warns against Power Vacuum in Syria

Saturday, 23 February, 2019 - 09:15
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar warned on against a power vacuum in Syria during the US troop withdrawal from the country, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported on Saturday.

“We reminded our partners that there should be no vacuum of power in any way during the withdrawal,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told Anadolu, describing his talks in the United States with acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

US President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops Syria in December after saying they had defeated ISIS in Syria. The abrupt decision sparked an outcry from allies and US lawmakers.

In a reversal on Friday, a senior US administration official said Washington would leave about 400 troops split between two Syrian regions, a move that could pave the way for US allies to keep troops in Syria.

The forces would be deployed in a safe zone being negotiated for northeastern Syria and a US military base at Tanf, near the border with Iraq and Jordan.

Trump was persuaded on Thursday that about 200 US troops would join what is expected to be a total commitment of some 800 to 1,500 troops from European allies to set up and observe the safe zone, the official said.

Akar also said he repeated call for Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters, which Ankara regards as terrorists, to be removed from the “safe zone”, which Turkey wants to control.

Kurdish leaders suggested the US troop decision could have a large impact on the fate of the area, preventing a security vacuum. Washington could keep control of the air space and European allies could complement the force with more troops.

The Kurdish-led authorities in the north welcomed the White House reversal. They had feared that a total US withdrawal would leave their area exposed to attack by Turkey.

“We evaluate the White House decision ... positively,” Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of foreign relations in the region held by the US-backed SDF told Reuters.

The SDF’s top commander earlier this week called for 1,000 to 1,500 international troops to remain in Syria to help fight ISIS and expressed hope Washington would halt Trump’s plans for a total pullout.

“We have had tremendous success in defeating the caliphate,” Trump said. “But we want to make sure it stays that way.”

“We can leave a small force, along with others in the force, whether it’s NATO troops or whoever it might be, so that it doesn’t start up again,” he said.

A Western diplomat said it remained to be seen whether European allies would contribute troops, or whether the force would be able to secure the area.

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