Turkey to take over fight against ISIS after US pullout

Syrian fighters backed by Turkey training in a camp in the Aleppo countryside, in northern Syria, last Sunday.
Syrian fighters backed by Turkey training in a camp in the Aleppo countryside, in northern Syria, last Sunday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ISTANBUL/BEIRUT • Turkey will take over the fight against ISIS militants in Syria as the United States withdraws its troops, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, in the latest upheaval wrought by Washington's abrupt policy shift.

In a speech in Istanbul on Friday, Mr Erdogan said Turkey would mobilise to fight remaining Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces and temporarily delay plans to attack Kurdish fighters in the north-east of Syria - shifts both precipitated by the American decision to withdraw.

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

The news was less welcome for other US allies. Both France and Germany warned that the US change of course risked damaging the campaign against ISIS, the extremists who seized big swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014-2015 but have now been beaten back to a sliver of Syrian territory.

Likewise, the US-backed militia spearheaded by the Syrian Kurdish YPG said a Turkish attack would force it to divert fighters from the battle against ISIS to protect its territory.

Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group and an offshoot of the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party, fighting for Kurdish autonomy across the border on Turkish soil.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said American troops may continue to operate against ISIS in Syria. The Pentagon is considering using special operations teams based in Iraq to target militants in Syria, the official said.


The official emphasised that using special operators on the ground was one of many options being considered and still in the planning stages, and that no final decision had been made.

ISIS launched an attack on Friday in Syria's south-east against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces militia, employing car bombs and dozens of militants.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 23, 2018, with the headline 'Turkey to take over fight against ISIS after US pullout'. Print Edition | Subscribe