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Ilhan Tanir
Jan 07 2019

Erdoğan promised to protect U.S. allied Kurdish forces - Pompeo

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised U.S. President Donald Trump that Syrian Kurdish fighters allied with the U.S. would be "protected," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said.

The United States since it went to rescue Syrian Kurdish town Kobane in August 2014 has fought alongside the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) against the Islamic State.

Later on, an umbrella organisation called the Syrian Democratic Forces was created to include more local Arab forces. However, the Syrian Kurdish YPG forces have been a dominant force within the group since its formation in 2015. Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged insurgency inside Turkey for decades, and deems both groups as terrorist organisations. However, the YPG forms the backbone of the U.S.-backed coalition in the fight against Islamic State. 

Pompeo's remarks that Trump ordered his team to protect Syrian Kurds from being "slaughtered" attracted wide attention in Turkey and in the region and have been condemned by Turkish officials, including Erdogan's spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin. 

Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton is also in Ankara and set to meet with the Turkish President on January 8. According to Bolton’s latest remarks out of Israel, Washington appears to have added a new condition before entirely withdrawing from the region: it wishes to receive assurances from Ankara that the Kurdish militia in northern Syria will not face an assault from Turkish forces.

Asked whether Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could be trusted not to turn on the American-backed Kurds in Syria, Pompeo told CNBC on Monday: "Erdogan made a commitment to President Trump ... that the Turks would continue to the counter ISIS campaign after our departure, and that the Turks would ensure that the folks that we'd fought with — that assisted us in the counter ISIS campaign — would be protected."

Pompeo also added that the reason that Trump's National Security Adviser Bolton in Turkey ''to have a conversation with the Turks about how we will effectuate that in light of the U.S. withdrawal.''

When asked whether he trust Erdogan personally, Pompeo said: 

Look, my sense in all of these things in my world internationally is it’s about acts on the ground, it’s about actions, it’s what we actually do.  Commitments are important and then making sure that we follow through on those commitments matters an awful lot.  That’s true for lots of parties, including our NATO ally, Turkey.

Pompeo, also was asked whether he finds Erdogan as a "reliable ally" last week but he had chosen not to answer the question directly either. Instead, Pompeo told American press, "So we still have lots of things to work with on the Turks.  They’re a NATO partner.  There are places where they’re very supportive of the things that Americans care about and which keep Americans safe."

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.