Pompeo confident of US deal with Turkey to protect Kurds

Despite Turkey’s vows to the contrary, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday he was confident the two nations can agree on a way to protect U.S.-allied Kurdish rebels in Syria after American troops withdraw from the country.

After speaking to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Pompeo said an agreement was a work in progress but can be achieved in a way that allows the Turks to defend their country while leaving alone Kurds who do not pose a threat.

The top U.S. diplomat said he was “optimistic” that Kurds who fought alongside U.S. forces against the Islamic State group in Syria are not threatened by pledges from Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to launch military operations against what he terms Kurdish “terrorists.”

“We recognize the Turkish people’s right and President Erdogan’s right to defend their country from terrorists and we also know that those who aren’t terrorists, those who were fighting alongside us all this time, deserve to be protected and we are confident that we can achieve an outcome that achieves both of those: protect the Turks from legitimate terror threats and prevent any substantial risks to folks who don’t present terror risks to Turkey,” Pompeo told reporters.

“We had this conversation, many details still to be worked out but I am optimistic we can achieve a good outcome,” Pompeo said of his call with Cavusoglu from Abu Dhabi, where he was on the fourth leg of a nine-nation Mideast trip.

He offered no details, but said the U.S. special envoy for Syria and the anti-IS coalition, Jim Jeffrey, had traveled to northern Syria earlier this past week to work on the matter and would be returning to Turkey to continue the discussions.

Turkey considers many of Syria’s Kurdish groups to be terrorists and has pledged to attack them. The threats have intensified in recent days as the U.S. begins the withdrawal process from Syria on President Donald Trump’s orders.

On a visit Friday to Turkish troops stationed near the Syrian border, Turkey’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar, said his country was “determined” to fight Kurdish militias it considers terrorists. He said military preparations were ongoing.

Pompeo and U.S. national security adviser John Bolton have made similar assurances to the Kurds, which have been denounced by Erdogan and other Turkish officials.

Comments by Bolton on the matter drew a quick rejection this past week from Erdogan, who said they were a “serious mistake” and that Turkey “cannot make any concessions in this regard.”

Turkey insists its military actions are aimed at Kurdish fighters in Syria — the Syrian Kurdish Peoples Protection Units, or YPG — whom it regards as terrorists, and not against the Kurdish people. That has been Turkey’s longtime position. Turkey has rejected any role for Kurdish fighters in restoring peace to the war-torn region.

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US official says troop withdrawal from Syria has started

US withdrawal of troops from Syria has officially begun, military spokesman confirms but refuses to discuss timeline of exit or specific locations

  • United States has begun ‘the process of deliberate withdrawal from Syria’
  • US military convoy drove from Rmeilan, northeastern Syria into Iraq last night
  • The US has some 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria, according to reports 

An American military official says the U.S.-led military coalition has begun the process of withdrawing troops from Syria.

Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the U.S.-coalition fighting ISIS, says the U.S. started ‘the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria.’

The withdrawal began Thursday night, according to the UK-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The U.S. has started ‘the process of deliberate withdrawal from Syria’. Pictured is a convoy of US military vehicles in Syria’s northern city of Manbij two weeks ago 

It said a convoy of about ten armored vehicles, in addition to some trucks, pulled out from Syria’s northeastern town of Rmeilan into Iraq.

‘CJTF-OIR has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,’ spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan said in a statement, referring to the US-led anti-jihadist force.

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‘Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements,’ he said. 

Trump’s shock announcement on December 19 that he was withdrawing all 2,000 American troops from the conflict-wracked Middle Eastern country concerned allies and prompted the resignation of his then defense chief Jim Mattis.

Since then, however, administration officials appear to have walked back considerably and the current envisaged timetable is unclear.

The removal of the equipment in recent days was first reported by CNN, which quoted an administration official with direct knowledge of the operation as saying it signaled the beginning of US withdrawal from the Middle Eastern country.

A U.S. soldier, left, sits on an armored vehicle behind a sand barrier at a newly installed position near the front line between the U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council and the Turkish-backed fighters, in Manbij, north Syria in April last year

The official quoted by CNN would not describe exactly what the cargo was or how it was being transported.

They also did not say what part of Syria it came from, though it is expected the drawdown would begin in the country’s north.

The CNN report added that officials it had previously spoken to said the Pentagon wants to signal to the president it is working towards his goals following his withdrawal decision last month.

Though the removal of troops is not on the cards immediately, withdrawing equipment is a means of showing progress towards this goal, it added.

On Sunday, National Security Adviser John Bolton set out stringent conditions for the proposed withdrawal, saying the defense of allies must first be assured.

‘We’re going to be discussing the president’s decision to withdraw, but to do so from northeast Syria in a way that makes sure that ISIS is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again,’ Bolton said when meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Speaking in Egypt Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed the troop pullout from Syria would go ahead as he urged Middle East nations to forge a common stand against Tehran.

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No Deal Brexit plans see troops called up, Christmas cancelled for civil servants and Cabinet ministers at war

Ministers will order businesses and families to start preparing for Britain to leave the EU without a deal and release £2billion of extra spending.

But some senior Tories vowed to stop a No Deal outcome – saying it's a "unicorn" that should be slayed.

As bitter Brexit battles rage on:

  • It emerged 3,500 troops are now on standby to help out in a No Deal outcome
  • Tory rebels including Jacob Rees-Mogg saved Theresa May from a Commons challenge
  • Ministers got legal advice on how to revoke Article 50
  • Eurocrat Jean-Claude Juncker was seen falling over at a party

The Cabinet spent three hours this morning thrashing out plans to make Britain ready to quit without a deal in March.

Ministers voted to approve the decision to ramp up No Deal contingency plans after the marathon Downing Street talks.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said: "We agreed that preparing for No Deal will be an operational priority within Government."

Civil servants will work through Christmas to ensure that Britain is prepared for any contingency.

Businesses receive a 100-page document on Friday, with a total of 80,000 firms likely to hear from the Government over the next few days.

Space will be reserved on ferries to ensure that emergency supplies can make it through to the country.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said: "Cabinet agreed that with just over three months until we exit from the European Union we have now reached the point where we need to ramp up these preparations.

"This means we will now set in motion the remaining elements of our No Deal plans.

"Cabinet also agreed to recommend businesses now also ensure they are similarly prepared, enacting their own No Deal plans as they judge necessary.

"Citizens should also prepare in line with the technical notices issued in the summer and in line with further more detailed advice that will now be issued over coming weeks."

A series of notices issued over the summer and autumn warned families they may need international driving licences and pet passports if they want to travel abroad and called on hospitals to stockpile crucial medical supplies.

The decision was strongly backed by Leavers such as Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt.

But a group of ministers insisted that No Deal should not be an option – and could even quit if the PM ends up taking that path.

Amber Rudd told the Cabinet: "Just because you put a seat belt on doesn’t mean you should crash the car."

She warned ministers they would see massive job losses if Britain left the EU without a deal.

And Justice Secretary David Gauke blasted: "Managed No Deal is not a viable option.

"It's not on offer from the EU and the responsibility of Cabinet ministers is not to propagate unicorns but to slay them."

Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, Mr Barclay said: "The Government's priority is to secure a deal, that hasn't changed.

"A responsible Government needs to ensure that we are ready for that default option which we don't want to happen.

"At Cabinet today we agreed that preparing for No Deal will be an operational priority within Government."

He insisted the only way for the Commons to avoid No Deal would be for MPs to back Mrs May's withdrawal agreement.

But Labour's Shadow Brexit Secretary Jenny Chapman blasted: "It is testament to the Prime Minister’s failure in these negotiations that the Government is now spending billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to prepare for a No Deal Brexit that is rejected by Parliament and many of those sat around the Cabinet table."

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