Even if government officials continue to claim that the US will leave Syria, they indicate – partly through the addition of conditions for withdrawal without a timetable – that the US presence will last much longer than the original Departure & # 39; declaration of departure by the president or even the 120-day deadline that the White House offered later.
The planned withdrawal has allied Allies, undermined the Kurds and deep-seated relations with Turkey, an issue that Trump was expected to discuss at his Wednesday meeting with Acting Defense Minister Patrick Shanahan and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Heads.
Bolton outlined a series of American goals in a meeting with the Turks this week, according to a senior official who was aware of the objectives outlined at the meeting. The official said that a long process is under way, not only for logistical reasons, but also because diplomacy takes time.
"This is the beginning of a conversation," said the official.
According to the official, Bolton told the Turks that the US is planning to:
- Look for a "negotiated solution" for Turkish security problems and the protection of all citizens, especially local minorities, which indicates US-backed Kurdish fighters
- Maintain the presence of the US on the southern base, al-Tanf, at this time. The US will seek the withdrawal of Iranian backed troops from Syria and a political solution in Syria.
- Withdraw D-ISIS troops in northeastern Syria "in a deliberate, orderly and strong manner."
- "Defeat the remaining ISIS caliphate on the way out", cause damage during the waiting time to other ISIS targets and "keep all options necessary for operations needed to prevent ISIS revival."
- Collaborate with Turkey and other members of the anti-ISIS coalition to continue the operations against the terrorist group and fight the airspace over Northeast Syria.
- Opposing any mistreatment of opposition forces who fought against ISIS with the US.
- Fight against the release of ISIS-foreign terrorists held by the Syrian opposition forces, which is unacceptable according to the US, and make it a top priority to "pursue a suitable character of those prisoners".
The fact that Bolton imposed the demand for the protection of Kurdish fighters as a condition for the withdrawal of the US from Syria led to Erdogan's anger. Turkey considers several Kurdish groups – including the People & # 39; s Protection Units, also known as the YPG – to be terrorist organizations.
The YPG is the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the foremost US partner on the ground in the fight against IS and has controlled a large part of northern Syria in recent years.
Erdogan told the Turkish parliament that Bolton's conditions regarding the Kurds were "not acceptable" and a "serious mistake", adding that "I can not swallow this".
"These are people who have fought with us and it is important that we do everything we can to ensure that the people who fought with us are protected and that Erdogan has made commitments, he understands – I think he is the language that he does not have beef in the Kurds – we want to be sure that's the case, "Pompeo told the traveling press before leaving Erbil in northern Iraq.
During their Wednesday meeting, Trump, Shanahan and Dunford also planned to formulate a more refined recording plan, according to various defense and administration officials.
The American Central Command has drawn up an execution plan to pull troops back safely there, officials tell CNN. But now, with the possibility that the credit withdrawal is being delayed, the army must determine the timing and phasing based on what the president ultimately approves.
Military planners calculate that the Pentagon may have to send hundreds of additional forces to Syria on a variety of missions to safely withdraw more than 2,000 US ground troops, according to two US officials.
Officials have told CNN that a way they expect to make progress in meeting Trump's wish is to start discussing percentages of military material that will be withdrawn from Syria – even though it is expected that no real troops will soon be available. will be.
In a statement, the Pentagon said: "Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific troop movements or timelines, but we do expect to provide a periodic update on progress on the percentages of equipment removed from Syria."
For now, two American defense officials said that observatories in northern Syria that were established by the order of former defense minister James Mattis are still in place and manned by US troops. The purpose of these posts, according to the sources, is in part to prevent Turkey from colliding with the Kurdish forces associated with the US.
CNN & # 39; s Barbara Starr, Kevin Liptak, Ryan Browne and Jennifer Hansler contributed to reporting