Turkish Presidential advisor Ibrahim Kalin (R) with US National Security Advisor John Bolton, Ankara, Turkey, January 8, 2019 (Anadolu)

Turkey has bluntly rebuffed Donald Trump’s warning over its actions in Kurdish areas in northern Syria.

Amid confusion over US policy following his December 19 order to withdraw all 2,000 US troops from Syria, Trump wrote in a pair of muddled tweets on Sunday, “Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone….”

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin responded via Twitter on Monday:

Since autumn 2015, the US has supported the Syrian Democratic Forces, in which the YPG militia is the leading faction, in a campaign to push back the Islamic State in northern and eastern Syria. But Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its YPG force as part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.

Conflict and Confusion

Last week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refused to see US National Security Advisor John Bolton in Ankara, after Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Turkey not to attack Kurdish territory, about 27% of Syria.

Syria Daily, Jan 14: Trump’s Incoherent Ramble About US Withdrawal
Syria Daily, Jan 13: Turkey Maneuvers on Border, Amid Uncertainty Over US Withdrawal and Islamist Advance

Despite US-Turkish talks scheduled for this week, further confusion has been spread by conflicting American messagees over Trump’s withdrawal. Bolton said last week that it was conditional on total defeat of the Islamic State and assurances of Kurdish safety, indicating these might require months or even years. But Pentagon said it had begun to pull out some equipment, and Pompeo put out vague statements that withdrawal will be completed.

Far from Trump clarifying the situation, Pompeo — on a tour of the Middle East — indicated yesterday that Trump is tweeting without consultation of his advisors. Asked what Trump meant by economic devastation of Turkey, he said:

You’ll have to ask the President. We have applied economic sanctions in many places, I assume he is speaking about those kinds of things.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to maintain a coherent US position: “The President expressed the desire to work together to address Turkey’s security concerns in northeast Syria while stressing the importance to the United States that Turkey does not mistreat the Kurds and other Syrian Democratic Forces with whom we have fought to defeat ISIS.”

The Turkish Presidency said Trump and Erdoğan spoke by phone on Monday. It said the discussion was on the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria which had been cleared of militia, and maintained that both leaders agreed nothing should block the planned US withdrawal.

There was no clarification of Trump’s reference to a “safe zone”. The Obama Administration spent years of indecision from 2012 over a zone protecting opposition areas from Assad regime attacks, failing to pursue any initiative.

Pompeo also did not indicate how such a zone could be achieved if the US is absent from northern Syria. He said the US wants to provide security for those who have fought the Islamic State and to prevent any attack on Turkey from Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Ankara is not against the idea of a safe zone, but implicitly chided Trump as he said allies should not communicate via social media.