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  • Turkish President Erdogan speaks during a joint news conference in Ankara.

    Turkish President Erdogan speaks during a joint news conference in Ankara. | Photo: Reuters

Published 22 December 2018
Opinion

President Tayyip Erdogan said Friday he will take over the fight against IS militants. 

Turkey will take over the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria as the United States withdraws its troops, President Tayyip Erdogan said Friday, generating more uncertainties for Kurdish groups who were fundamental in the struggle against the IS group.

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Turkey has welcomed the surprise announcement by U.S. President Donald Trump that he would withdraw roughly 2,000 troops from a Syria, which it considers a step to remove a source of friction with the U.S.

Erdogan has long criticized the U.S. over its support for Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters against IS militants. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group and an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey.

In a speech in Istanbul, Erdogan said Turkey would mobilize to fight remaining IS forces in Syria and temporarily delay plans to attack Kurdish fighters in the northeast of Syria.

The YPG said a Turkish attack would force it to divert fighters from the battle against Islamic State to protect its territory.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. troops may continue to operate against the IS group using Special Operation teams based in Iraq to target militants in Syria.

"We will be working on our operational plans to eliminate ISIS (Islamic State) elements, which are said to remain intact in Syria, in line with our conversation with President Trump," Erdogan said.

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The Turkish president had announced plans last week to start an operation east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria to oust the YPG from the area that it largely controls. This week, he said the campaign could come at any moment. But on Friday, he cited the talk with Trump as a reason to wait.

Trump maintained that IS had been wiped out, a view not shared by key allies. His defense secretary, Jim Mattis, opposed the decision and announced Thursday he was resigning after meeting with the president.

In a letter to Trump, Mattis emphasized the importance of "showing respect" to allies that have voiced surprise and concern about Trump's decision.

Russia said Friday it did not understand what the United States' next steps in Syria would be, adding that chaotic and unpredictable decision-making in Washington was creating discomfort in international affairs.

Several of Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress, joined by opposition Democrats, urged the president to reverse course, saying the withdrawal would strengthen the hand of Russia and Iran in Syria.

Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria may not be able to continue to hold IS prisoners if the situation in the region gets out of control after a U.S. pullout, top Syrian Kurdish official Ilham Ahmed said Friday.

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