US President Donald Trump said on Sunday that the US would attack the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group even after it pulls troops out of Syria, if necessary.
In a series of tweets, Trump also made clear that the US would hit back at Turkey if it harms the Kurds after the US leaves.
“Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions. Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone,” he wrote.
“Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey. Russia, Iran and Syria have been the biggest beneficiaries of the long term U.S. policy of destroying ISIS in Syria - natural enemies. We also benefit but it is now time to bring our troops back home. Stop the ENDLESS WARS!” added Trump.
Trump unexpectedly announced last month that the US would withdraw the roughly 2,000 soldiers it currently has deployed in Syria.
The president initially called for a 30-day timeframe to complete the pullout, but after meeting with South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Trump agreed to delay completion of the withdrawal.
On Friday, a military spokesman said the US had already begun "the process of our deliberate withdrawal" from Syria. Defense officials later clarified that the military has begun moving non-essential gear out of Syria but is not withdrawing troops for now.
The US’s main ally on the ground fighting ISIS in Syria, the Kurdish led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have held emergency talks with Moscow and Damascus over fears that Turkey will use the US withdrawal to launch on offensive.
The Syrian Democratic Forces are led by led by the People's Protection Units (YPG), a mostly Kurdish militia. The US makes a distinction between the YPG and the PKK, but Turkey does not and has more than once expressed its outrage over the American support for YPG, which it views as a terrorist organization.
On Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was "optimistic" that a way could be found to protect Syrian Kurds while allowing Turks to "defend their country from terrorists" following the US pullout from Syria.