Bolton, on a trip to Israel and Turkey, said he would stress in talks with Turkish officials, including President Tayyip Erdogan, that Kurdish forces must be protected.
Asked whether a U.S. withdrawal would not take place in Syria until Turkey guaranteed the Kurdish fighters would be safe, Bolton said: “Basically, that’s right.”
“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States at a minimum,” Bolton said, “so they don’t endanger our troops, but also so that they meet the president’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered.”
Turkey was not amused. The YPG Kurds, which the U.S. uses in Syria as cannon fodder to fight the Islamic State, are the same organization as the PKK which acts as a terrorist group in Turkey. Turkey can not allow that group to exist on its border as an organized military force.
When Bolton landed in Turkey today he received a very cold welcome. The planned meeting with the Turkish President Erdogan did not take place. The meeting John Bolton, Joint Chief of Staff Joe Dunford and Syria envoy James Jeffrey held with the Turkish National Security Advisor Ibrahim Kalin was downgraded and took less than two hours. A planned joint press conference was canceled.
The U.S. delegation did not look happy, or even united, when it left the presidential compound in Ankara.
NatSec adviser John Bolton, Gen. Joe Dunford and Amb. Jim Jeffrey departing from the presidential compound in Ankara after some two hours of meetings with senior Turkish officials regarding US withdrawal from Syria and Turkey’s commitment to continuing the fight against ISIS. pic.twitter.com/hCCQE9hVfd
Shortly after Bolton’s meeting Erdogan held a speech to his parliament group. It was a slap in Bolton’s face. Via Raqip Solyu:
Erdogan says he cannot accept or swallow the messages given by US National Security Advisor Bolton in Israel.
Erdoğan, “YPG/PKK are terrorists. Some say ‘don’t touch them because they are Kurds’. This is unacceptable. Everyone can be a terrorist. They could be Turkmans. Their ethnicity doesn’t matter. Bolton made a big mistake by his statements”
Erdogan on the Syria policy chaos in Washington: “As it happened in the past, despite our clear agreement with Trump on US withdrawal from Syria, different voices started to come out from different levels of the American administration.”
Erdogan says Turkey continues to rely on Trump’s view on Syria and his decisiveness on the pullout. “We, largely, completed our military preparations against ISIS in accordance with our agreement with Trump”
“Saying that Turkey targets Syrian Kurds, which is a lie itself, is the lowest, most dishonorable, ugliest, most banal slander ever” Erdogan added.
Erdogan’s communication director gave the last kick:
U.S. National Security Adviser @AmbJohnBolton held talks with his Turkish counterpart @ikalin1 at the Presidential Complex in Ankara today.
I hope that he got a taste of the world famous Turkish hospitality during his visit.
An editorial in the Erdogan aligned Daily Sabah called Bolton’s ideas a soft coup against Trump.
And with that, Bolton was humiliated and the issue of the U.S. retreat from Syria kicked back to Trump.
We have seen a similar scheme in U.S. negotiations with North Korea. Trump made a four step deal with Kim Jong Un. Then the borg in form of Secretary of State Pompeo tried to change the deal, and demanded that North Korea fulfills step four before the U.S. will take step one, two and three. When he then flew to North Korea he was ignored by Kim Jong Un and only met with lower level staff. It required Trump’s intervention to keep the talks alive.
Erdogan likewise had a deal with Trump about the U.S. retreat from Syria. Bolton tried to change the deal, to add conditions and to prolong the timeline. When he arrived in Ankara he was not only ignored by Erdogan, but scolded. It will require Trumps intervention to bring the issue back onto its tracks.
If Trump does not move, Erdogan is likely to seek a military escalation. His army will probably fire artillery on this or that Kurdish position near the Turkish border. It may even invade a few towns. Not necessarily to hold them, but to increase the pressure on the U.S. occupation force.
Turkey originally planned to first take Manbij on the western side of the Euphrates. But Manbij is blocked by Syrian troops, now reinforced by Russian military police patrols. Erdogan will not dare to attack them.
Erdogan wants the U.S. to leave Syria and to take with it the arms it handed to the YPG to fight ISIS. He wants the Syrian government to retake northeast Syria and to bring the Kurds under control. That would eliminate the danger to Turkey.
Since Trump announced that U.S. troops would soon leave Syria the fight against the remaining ISIS forces near the Iraqi border increased in pace. ISIS’ territorial hold is now down to two or three villages. Sunday night it used another spat of bad weather due to which the U.S. air force could not provide air support to the Kurdish led proxy force that fights ISIS. An ISIS counter attack ensued and killed some 25 of the U.S. supported forces. This was likely the last significant battle for ISIS. The Islamic State is down to a few hundred fighters who have no way to escape. They will be bombed to smithereens.
In Idleb governorate al-Qaeda aka Hayat Tahrir al Sham continues to consolidate its hold. It issued several ultimatums to Ahrar al-Sham and other ‘moderate rebel’ groups that still hold parts of the area. When it is finished with the elimination of its competition it will likely shell Aleppo city and attack the Syrian government lines. That will restart the war over Idleb.
The last time the Syrian government planned to cleanse Idleb of the Jihadis, the U.S. intervened and threatened to attack the Syrian army. Russia forged the Astana agreement under which Turkey agreed to eliminate HTS. It failed to fulfill its promise. The Syrian army is thus free to solve the problem.
But what will the White House do? Will Bolton (should he still be NSA by then) press for defending al-Qaeda? Will Trump agree to that?
Cover photo: National Security adviser John Bolton speaks with Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin