White House national security adviser John Bolton on Sunday outlined conditions for a U.S. troop departure from Syria that appeared to contradict President Donald Trump’s insistence less than a month ago that the withdrawal would be immediate and without conditions, Washington Post reported.
Speaking during a visit to Israel, Bolton said that certain “objectives” must be achieved before a pullout could take place. “The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”
Bolton acknowledged that parts of the Islamic State remain undefeated and that a quick U.S. pullout could endanger U.S. partners and allies in the region, as well as U.S. forces themselves.
Trump, who has declared the battle won against the militants and just two weeks ago said he refused military entreaties for more time, said on Sunday that he remained committed to the withdrawal but told reporters: “I never said we’re doing it that quickly.”
Among the policy decisions still to be made is what to do about the tens of thousands of Syrian Kurdish fighters that U.S. forces have trained, armed and advised to carry out the ground war against the Islamic State.
Turkey, a NATO ally, considers them terrorists and has vowed to drive them out of the northeastern Syrian territory seized from the militants as soon as the Americans leave.
“It’s also very important that as we discuss with members of the coalition, [and] other countries that have an interest, like Israel and Turkey, that we expect that those who have fought with us in Syria… particularly the Kurds,” not be put in “jeopardy” by the withdrawal, said Bolton, who plans to travel to Ankara on Tuesday.
While Trump has expressed confidence that Turkey, which controls its own Syrian force opposed to both the Kurds and to President Bashar al-Assad, is capable of picking up the remaining fight against the Islamic State, Pentagon and State Department officials question Turkish priorities and capabilities, The Post added.
Turkish officials have also said they want the United States to provide air and logistical support for their operations in Syria. Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have stated repeatedly in recent months that driving Iran from Syria was also an objective for both the United States and Israel.
However, Trump appeared to indicate Sunday that both Iran and Russia, whose forces in Syria back Assad, were potential U.S. allies against the Islamic State.