(Bloomberg) — President Donald Trump warned Turkey not to attack Kurdish forces in Syria after a planned U.S. pullout, saying the NATO ally would be economically devastated if it did so.
In a Sunday-night tweet, Trump said his government was starting the “long overdue pullout” from Syria while hitting the “little remaining” Islamic State “territorial caliphate” and would attack again from a nearby existing base if the jihadist group regroups.
“The U.S. is withdrawing from northeast Syria in a strong, deliberate and coordinated manner, and seeks to ensure that the forces that have fought alongside coalition partners in the campaign against ISIS are not mistreated,” an administration official said following the president’s tweet.
In a separate tweet, Trump also warned the Kurds against provoking Turkey.
The U.S. and Turkey have been allies for more than six decades, but in recent years their relationship has been repeatedly strained by disputes. U.S. support for a Syrian-led Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units that Turkey considers a foe is the source of one rift.
That provoked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to snub Trump’s national security adviser last week, after John Bolton had received a warm welcome by Israeli officials days before.
Erdogan rebuffed a proposed meeting with Bolton in Ankara on Jan. 8, then took to live television instead to insult him for a lack of perspective.
“Although we made a clear agreement with U.S. President Trump, different voices are emerging from different parts of the administration,” Erdogan said as Bolton prepared to leave town after meeting other Turkish officials. “Trump’s remarks continue to be the main point of reference for us.”
Trump’s hasty announcement in December of a U.S. exit from the war-torn country has caused confusion among allies and adversaries alike, and it also led to the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis. Erdogan has been massing Turkish troops on the Syrian border for weeks, preparing for an invasion to eradicate Kurdish forces that the U.S. has vowed to protect.
Since Trump’s announcement, senior members of his administration including Bolton and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo have frustrated Turkey by setting more specific conditions on what Trump initially suggested would be a quick withdrawal.
The delay has restricted Turkey’s ability to launch an offensive against the YPG, a group of Kurdish fighters it considers terrorists, but who served as allies to the U.S. coalition to defeat Islamic State.
(Updates with administration official, background throughout.)
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