People walk next to fire, debris and a damaged truck after a deadly airstrike, said to be in Maarat al-Numan, Idlib province, Syria August 28, 2019. Picture taken August 28, 2019- Syria Civil Defence in the Governorate of Idlib/Handout via REUTERS
WASHINGTON, Oct 16 (MENA) - Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in Ankara on Thursday to relay President Donald Trump’s demand that Erdogan negotiate a cease-fire in Syria and to reiterate the president’s threat to impose economic sanctions if he does not comply, The New York Times reported.
The president’s sending of the delegation — to also include his national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, and the State Department’s special envoy for Syrian affairs, James F. Jeffrey — is part of a scrambled effort to wrest back control of a chaotic situation in Syria that has endangered American forces there even as they prepared to leave.
Trump surprised his own military when he ordered the immediate withdrawal of all 1,000 American troops in northern Syria, who had been fighting Islamic State militants alongside Syrian Kurds. The forces’ withdrawal, ahead of Turkey’s cross-border offensive, has prompted the Syrian Kurds to turn for support to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and the Russians.
The risk to American troops became evident on Tuesday, when the American military ordered Apache helicopter gunships to conduct a low-flying show of force to warn off Turkish-backed militia members who were approaching, an American military official said.
Trump has long viewed his personal relationships with leaders, including Erdogan, as key to accomplishing his foreign policy goals. But Trump’s failure in an Oct. 6 phone call to outline the consequences for Erdogan if he moved his troops into Syria has forced the White House to deal with the consequences.
“The administration is resolved to maintain security in the region, the safety of civilians, and the continued detention of Daesh fighters,” Pence said Tuesday in a statement.
Administration officials have sought in recent days to play down the idea that Trump’s decision to pull American troops from northeast Syria had contributed to a rapid destabilization of the area. One senior official likened it on Monday to a matter of moving “a couple of dozen guys around.”
But developments on the ground reflected growing security concerns for United States military officials stationed there.
The Pentagon has not received a final deadline for pulling troops from northern Syria. For the moment, the military is planning on “weeks, not days” to complete the withdrawal, according to one officer briefed on operational planning. Most of the American troops are expected to leave by transport planes or helicopters, or by convoy into neighboring Iraq.
A small number of allied Special Operations forces from countries like Britain and France that have been conducting missions in the northeast alongside the Americans are expected to leave under the United States logistical umbrella, officials said.
Hundreds of American troops in the region are standing by to provide security for the retreating ones now that most Syrian Kurdish forces, which had provided security at bases and roadways, have been redirected north to confront the Turkish invasion, military officials said.
Dozens of American warplanes and armed drones that had been conducting other missions, including counterterrorism operations, have in the past several days been reassigned to watch over the departing troops.