ISTANBUL—Turkey vowed that the fight against the ISIS terrorist group wouldn’t be slowed by the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, where Ankara-backed rebels reinforced their positions around the potential flashpoint town of Manbij.
Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, dismissed concerns that the withdrawal ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump would allow ISIS to regain territory.
“As part of the global coalition to defeat ISIS, we would like to express again that we will not allow such a thing to happen on Syrian soil, Iraqi soil or Turkish soil,” Kalin told a news conference on Dec. 24. He added that there would be no disruption or slowdown of the fight against the extremist group.
Steps to Prevent a Power Vacuum
Erdogan and Trump agreed in a phone call on Dec. 23 to establish military and diplomatic coordination to prevent a power vacuum from developing as the United States withdraws.
A committee of U.S. military officials will visit Turkey this week to discuss the details of the pullout with their counterparts, Kalin said, adding that Turkey would also increase coordination with Russia in Syria.
In Washington, Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb confirmed there would be meetings in Turkey this week. She said the two countries were “coordinating actively on all issues affecting both Turkish security and the situation in Northeast Syria,” but declined to give details of the discussions.
War on Terror Continues
The Trump administration has made it clear that, despite the Syria withdrawal, its campaign against terrorism continues. Even with no boots on the ground in Syria, the United States maintains around 5,200 troops across the border in Iraq.
Furthermore, much of the U.S. campaign in Syria has been waged by warplanes flying out of Qatar and other locations in the Middle East.
The United States is currently working on stabilizing and providing early recovery efforts in areas liberated from ISIS control, including the removal of explosive war remnants and the restoration of essential services.
In addition to leading the global coalition to defeat ISIS in Syria, the United States is the single largest donor for efforts in response to the conflict in Syria. Washington has provided nearly $8.1 billion in assistance for people displaced since the crisis started.
A rebel spokesman said on Dec. 24 that Turkish-backed Syrian forces had reinforced the area around the town of Manbij, occupied by Kurdish fighters, in preparation for the U.S. withdrawal.
“Yesterday units, from the (rebel) Syrian National Army headed toward the Manbij front and took preliminary positions (in preparation) for the battle,” said Maj. Youssef Hamoud, the spokesman for the National Army.
U.S. forces are still in Manbij and the Turkish-backed fighters will not advance until they withdraw, Hamoud told Reuters.
Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has signed the order for the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Syria, the U.S. Defense Department said Dec. 24. The withdrawal is seen as possibly beginning within weeks.