Turkey set to take over fight against IS after US withdrawal

Turkey set to take over fight against IS after US withdrawal

Turkey will take over the fight against Islamic State militants in Syria as the United States withdraws its troops, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, in the latest upheaval wrought by Washington's abrupt policy shift. 

 The surprise announcement by US President Donald Trump this week that he would withdraw roughly 2,000 troops has felled a pillar of American policy in the Middle East.

 Critics say Trump's decision will make it harder to find a diplomatic solution to Syria's seven-year-old conflict.

 For Turkey, the step removes a source of friction with the United States. Erdogan has long castigated his NATO ally over its support for Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters against Islamic State. 

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

 In a speech in Istanbul, Erdogan said Turkey would mobilise to fight remaining Islamic State forces in Syria and temporarily delay plans to attack Kurdish fighters in the northeast of the country - shifts both precipitated by the American decision to withdraw. 

 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 Islamic State, the jihadists who seized big swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014-15 but have now been beaten back to a sliver of Syrian territory. 

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

 Islamic State launched an attack in Syria's southeast against the US-backed SDF militia, employing car bombs and dozens of militants.

 "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," Erdogan said, referring to Islamic State. 

 The Turkish president had announced plans last week to start an operation east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria to oust the YPG from the area that it largely controls. 

This week, he said the campaign could come at any moment. But on Friday, he cited the talk with Trump as a reason to wait. 

 "Our phone call with President Trump, along with contacts between our diplomats and security officials and statements by the United States, have led us to wait a little longer," he said. 

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