ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US counterpart Donald Trump agreed in a phone conversation on Sunday to prevent a power vacuum in Syria after American ground forces withdraw, the Turkish presidency said.
“The two leaders agreed to ensure coordination between their countries’ military, diplomatic and other officials to avoid a power vacuum which could result following any abuse of the withdrawal and transition phase in Syria,” the presidency said in a statement.
Trump stunned his allies and the US establishment on Wednesday when he ordered the withdrawal of 2,000 American ground forces in Syria.
The shock move led to the resignations of US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk, the special envoy to the anti-IS coalition.
But Turkey has welcomed the decision.
Erdogan on Sunday told Trump that Turkey was “ready to give any support to our NATO ally within the framework of this decision” to withdraw, according to the statement.
Earlier, Trump and Erdogan each said on Twitter that they held a “productive” phone conversation.
The US president also said he discussed “the slow & highly coordinated pullout of US troops from the area” during the call.
The two men also agreed that trade was below the desired level between the US and Turkey, and should be increased, the Turkish presidency added.
Relations between Turkey and the US have improved since a bitter row in the summer over the detention of an American pastor who was subsequently released in October.
Ties have been particularly strained in recent years over the US presence in Syria supporting a Kurdish militia fighting against the Islamic State group.
Ankara says the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia is a “terrorist offshoot” of Kurdish militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey.
Turkey sends military reinforcements to Syria border: reports
Turkey has sent reinforcements to the border with Syria, Turkish media reported on Monday, after Washington ordered the withdrawal of its ground forces from the war-ravaged nation.
A Turkish military convoy with howitzers and artillery batteries as well as different units of the armed forces was deployed to the border district of Elbeyli in Kilis province, state news agency Anadolu reported.
The military reinforcements would take place “gradually”, the private IHA news agency reported, adding that parts of the convoy had entered Syria.
The deployment began over the weekend with around 100 vehicles, Hurriyet daily said, which had crossed into the Al-Bab region of northern Syria.
They were headed towards Jarabulus and Manbij which is held by a US-backed Kurdish YPG militia viewed by Ankara as “terrorists” linked to Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey.
Turkey was a rare ally that lauded Trump’s decision on Syria, since it will now have a freer rein to target Kurdish fighters in the country’s north who were armed and trained by the US and played a major role in the war against Islamic State (IS) group.
Jarabulus and Al-Bab were areas captured from IS during Ankara’s first military operation in August 2016 which lasted until March 2017.
Military reinforcements had also been sent to the Akcakale border town and Ceylanpinar district, both in the southeastern Sanliurfa province.
US President Donald Trump stunned the US political establishment and allies last week when he decided to pull 2,000 troops from Syria just days after his Turkish counterpart warned Ankara would soon launch a new operation in the country’s north.
Turkey conducted a second offensive with Syrian rebels against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in its northwestern enclave of Afrin in January this year.
The operation ended in March with the capture of the city.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Ankara would launch a third operation against the YPG and the last remaining elements of IS in Syria in the coming months.
Prior to Trump’s announcement, Erdogan had said the operation would be in the “next few days” but on Friday Turkey said this would be delayed to avoid “friendly fire”.
American support to the YPG, under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, has long been a source of tensions between NATO allies the US and Turkey.
With Trump’s move to withdraw troops and trust that Turkey will handle the remnants of IS, the Turkish and American leaders appear to have improved relations substantially since a crisis in the summer over the detention of a US pastor, subsequently released.