“If the (withdrawal) is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told local news station NTV, without elaborating on a timeline.
The warning comes after American officials attempted to condition a U.S. troop pullout on a guarantee of safety for its Kurdish partners and Turkish non-aggression — something Turkish President Recep Erdogan promptly smacked down on Tuesday. Now Ankara, which has amassed thousands of Turkish troops along its border with Syria, says it will act regardless of a U.S. delay.
“We are determined on the field and at the table,” Cavusoglu said. “We will decide on its timing and we will not receive permission from anyone.”
White House national security advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have spent the week in the Middle East trying to reassure allies of America’s commitment in the wake of President Donald Trump’s shock announcement to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria. Security officials and lawmakers have warned this would mean abandoning local partners on the ground and undermining U.S. credibility when it comes to alliances.
The White House and State Department did not respond to requests for comment on Cavusoglu’s statements at the time of publication.
Turkey’s government has long threatened to unilaterally attack the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the U.S.-supported militias controlling large swaths of northern Syria that spearheaded the local fight against the Islamic State. Ankara views the YPG as terrorists and a security threat on its southern border, stressing its ties to a separate Kurdish group that’s carried out a decades-long, violent insurgency against the Turkish state.
The two NATO allies continue to lock horns over the issue of the Kurds, which has proved a massive thorn in U.S.-Turkey relations since the Pentagon began arming and training the Kurds to battle IS in Syria in 2015.