US withdrawal from Syria begins after contradictory messages from John Bolton and Mike Pompeo
13 January, 2019, 18:25
President Trump shocked nearly everyone - from Congress and the Pentagon, to America's allies and enemies around the world - when he announced the pullout, arguing that the U.S. was "getting nothing" from its involvement in the country.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan labeled Bolton's comments unacceptable and a "grave mistake".
"These have been folks that have fought with us and it's important that we do everything we can to ensure that those folks that fought with us are protected", Pompeo said of the Kurds while visiting Irbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, after talks in Baghdad.
Pompeo said on Saturday that he was optimistic that a "good outcome" could be reached between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish groups, after speaking to the Turkish foreign minister.
Pompeo and US national security adviser John Bolton have made similar assurances to the Kurds, which have been denounced by Erdogan and other Turkish officials.
He said such statements were "unacceptable".
Pompeo's remarks follow tensions between the USA and Turkey over the fate of Washington's allies in the fight against ISIS.
He added that the only way to end the rivalries and conflict in the region is by containing and defeating Iran, and vowed "expel every last Iranian boot" from Syria.
The People's Protection Units, or YPG - a major component of the SDF - is regarded by Ankara as an offshoot of the PKK Kurdish militant group which Turkey calls a terrorist organisation.
This dispute with Turkey over America's Kurdish allies has overshadowed Mr Pompeo's sweeping Middle East trip.
Mr Pompeo really wants to turn the focus to countering Iran.
"We are confident we can achieve an outcome that achieves both of those", he said.
Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the coalition fighting the Islamic State group, said the USA started "the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria".
In 2014, militants overran 100,000 sq km (39,000 sq miles) of Syria and neighbouring Iraq, and imposed their brutal rule on nearly 8 million people.
No U.S. personnel have left Syria yet, according to a Pentagon spokesman.
On December 19, Trump said he had ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. forces in Syria, which are believed to number around 2,000.
Trump's national security advisor John Bolton on Sunday announced conditions for a withdrawal that appeared to delay it indefinitely.
Iran hosted tens of thousands of Polish war refugees who were brought to the country after surviving work camps in the Soviet Union and before they migrated to then-emerging Israel, New Zealand and some African countries.
She charged that the USA appeared to be "looking for a reason to stay" in Syria.
The AP, citing a USA defense official, also reported that the pullout thus far has involved only equipment and not the estimated 2,000 US troops believed to be in Syria.
America's operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the country were to continue during the withdrawal process.