WASHINGTON, USA: President Donald Trump has given heads up to Turkish President for a military operation in northern Syria as the country withdrew support to Kurdish fighters in the region.
US administration said President Trump spoke directly with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the issue on Sunday.
“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” the White House said in a statement released around 11 pm in Washington.
“The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the [Turkish military] operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in an unusual late-Sunday statement.
She abstained from commenting on the fate of the Kurdish fighters.
The White House statement said Turkey will take custody of foreign fighters captured in the US-led campaign against ISIS who were previously held by the Kurdish forces in Syria.
The Kurdish force holds more than 10,000 ISIS fighters, including 2,000 foreigners in separate makeshift prisons, US intelligence officials have revealed.
Turkey calls the Kurdish fighters a terrorist insurgency and has long sought to end US support for the group.
The Syrian Democratic Forces had been America’s most reliable ally in fighting the Islamic State in a strategic corner of north Syria.
Top Pentagon and the State Department officials had recommended the Trump administration to keep “small troop presence in northeast Syria” to act as a critical counterweight to Iran and Russia as well as to continue operations against ISIS.
The White House has indicated that 100 to 150 United States military personnel deployed to that area would be pulled back in advance of any Turkish operation but that they would not be completely withdrawn from Syria.
He had said the area would be reserved for the involuntary return of over a million Syrian refugees, if not backed by the international community, he warned to send a wave of Syrian migrants to Europe instead of their own country.
The American and Turkish militaries have been working together on a series of confidence-building measures including joint reconnaissance flights and ground patrols in a 75-mile-long strip of the “safe zone” area since August.
US-backed Kurdish forces had pulled back several miles in recognition and destroyed fortifications in the area.
In 2018, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had resigned over Trump’s surprise order of a full withdrawal of 2,000 US troops from Syria, followed with resignation of special presidential envoy for the coalition to defeat ISIS Brett McGurk.