Turkey to delay Syria operation, Erdogan welcomes US decision to withdraw troops
President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey would postpone a military operation against Syrian Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria as he “cautiously” welcomed Washington’s decision to withdraw its troops in the area.
The surprise announcement from US President Donald Trump this week that Washington would withdraw its roughly 2,000 troops has upended a pillar of American policy in the Middle East. Critics say it will make it harder to find a diplomatic solution to Syria’s seven-year-old civil war.
But for Ankara, the step removes a source of friction with the United States. Erdogan has long castigated his NATO ally over northeastern Syria, where Washington has backed Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters.
Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization and an offshoot of the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), fighting for Kurdish autonomy across the border on Turkish soil.
Erdogan announced plans last week to start an operation east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria to push the YPG out of the area, which it largely controls.
This week he said the campaign could come at any moment. But on Friday, he cited the United States’ move and a phone call with Trump as a reason to wait.
“We had decided last week to launch a military incursion in the east of the Euphrates river ... Our phone call with President Trump, along with contacts between our diplomats and security officials and statements by the United States, have led us to wait a little longer,” he said in a speech in Istanbul.
“We have postponed our military operation against the east of the Euphrates river until we see on the ground the result of America’s decision to withdraw from Syria.”
Erdogan said this was not an “open-ended waiting period”.