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Trump, Erdogan discuss secure zone in Syria as Turkey vows to continue fight against Kurdish militia

ISTANBUL/WASHINGTON: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump on Monday discussed the establishment of a secure zone in northern Syria cleared of militia groups, the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

Speaking by phone, the two emphasised the need to complete a roadmap regarding Syria's border town of Manbij, as well to avoid giving any opportunity to elements seeking to block the planned withdrawal of US forces from Syria, it said.

Earlier, Trump threatened Turkey with economic devastation if it attacked a US-allied Kurdish militia in Syria, and proposed the creation of a safe zone.

But Turkey vowed to continue fighting the militia which it views as a terrorist group.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Twitter that there was "no difference" between the Daesh group and the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia. "We will continue to fight against them all."

“Mr @realDonaldTrump It is a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds with the PKK, which is on the US terrorists list, and its Syria branch PYD/YPG,” Kalin also wrote on Twitter in response to Trump’s tweet.

Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of Syria has left the United States’ Kurdish allies vulnerable to an attack from Turkey. Ankara views the Kurdish forces as terrorists aligned with insurgents inside Turkey.

In a tweet, Trump also warned the Kurdish forces not to “provoke Turkey.”

The US withdrawal has begun with shipments of military equipment, US defense officials said. But in coming weeks, the contingent of about 2,000 troops is expected to depart even as the White House says it will keep pressure on Daesh.

Once the troops are gone, the US will have ended three years of organizing, arming, advising and providing air cover for Syrian, Kurdish and Arab fighters in an open-ended campaign devised by the Obama administration to deal the militants, also known as Daesh, a lasting defeat.

“Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining Daesh territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions,” Trump tweeted. “Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds.”

Trump’s decision to leave Syria, which he initially said would be rapid but later slowed down, shocked US allies and angered the Kurds in Syria. It also prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and drew criticism in Congress. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, called the decision a “betrayal of our Kurdish partners.”

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