US President Trump defends decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria, where Turkey plans a military campaign, saying it was too costly to keep supporting SDF/ YPG militants.

A Turkish military helicopter flies over as Turkish and US troops return from a joint US-Turkey patrol in northern Syria, as it is pictured from near the Turkish town of Akcakale, Turkey. September 8, 2019.
A Turkish military helicopter flies over as Turkish and US troops return from a joint US-Turkey patrol in northern Syria, as it is pictured from near the Turkish town of Akcakale, Turkey. September 8, 2019. (Reuters Archive)

President Donald Trump on Monday justified his decision to withdraw troops from Turkey's border with Syria, saying the region would have to "figure the situation out" and that the US needed to get out of "ridiculous Endless Wars."

The US withdrawal from key positions along Syria's northern border was announced late Sunday, marks a major policy shift and effectively abandons the SDF/YPG militants, who were Washington's ally in the years-old battle against Daesh terrorists.  Turkey is expected to launch a military operation in the same area, east of Euphrates River in Syria, occupied by the SDF/YPG.

"Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their 'neighborhood.'" Trump tweeted.

The US partnered with the YPG-dominated SDF militia in the fight against Daesh in Syria.

The YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terrorist organisation. In the PKK's 30-year terror campaign against the Turkish state more than 40,000 people, including women and children, have been killed.

The US president admitted Washington funded and armed the militants, who he said, were "fighting Turkey for decades." Turkey and the US are NATO allies and arming the group has been a serious bone of contention between Ankara and Washington. 

Turkey, the US, and EU recognise the PKK as a terrorist organisation.

"The Kurds [SDF/YPG] fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so," he added.

"They have been fighting Turkey for decades. I held off this fight for almost 3 years but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. 

"We will fight where it is to our benefit," Trump tweeted, in all capitals.

"The two most unhappy countries at this move [Syria pullback] are Russia and China because they love seeing us bogged down, watching over a quagmire, and spending big dollars to do so," Trump added.

Fate of surviving Daesh militants

Trump also said it was now up to the region to decide what to do with captured Daesh militants, explaining: "We are 7,000 miles away and will crush ISIS [Daesh] again if they come anywhere near us!"

Ambassador James Jeffrey, the State Department envoy to the international coalition fighting Daesh, and Trump have said the SDF/YPG have custody of thousands of captured Daesh militants, including foreign fighters from Europe and elsewhere whose native countries have been reluctant to take them back.

Trump has repeatedly demanded that European countries, particularly France and Germany, take back their citizens who joined Daesh.

Turkey's northeast Syria military operation 

Earlier, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the US has begun withdrawal from northern Syria.

"After our conversation yesterday [on Sunday] evening, as Mr President [Donald Trump] stated, the retreat has begun," Erdogan told reporters at Ankara's Esenboga International Airport before his departure for a two-day visit to Serbia.

"The terror organisations and the threat that they pose to our country [Turkey] is something that is unacceptable and won't be tolerated by us," the Turkish president added.

He further said, "We want to return these [Daesh] fighters back, we cannot look after them... we will see what kind of steps we can take to expedite their return."

On Sunday, Washington ruled out any assistance or involvement in Turkey's planned operation east of the Euphrates River.

In a statement, the White House said: "The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS [Daesh] territorial 'Caliphate,' will no longer be in the immediate area/"

The statement came hours after a phone call between Erdogan and Trump, during which a November meeting was planned, according to Turkish presidential sources.

Since 2016, Turkey's Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations in northwestern Syria have liberated the region from YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists, making it possible for Syrians who fled the violence to return home.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA), which took part in operations Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch along with the Turkish Armed Forces, earlier announced it completed preparations for a potential military operation in east of Euphrates, according to an Anadolu Agency report. 

UN calls for protection of civilians 

Civilians must be protected in any Turkish military operation in northeast Syria, where the UN hopes that displacement and atrocities can be prevented, a senior UN aid official said on Monday.

Panos Moumtzis, UN regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, speaking hours later, told reporters in Geneva that had drawn up contingency plans to provide aid.

Moumtzis also added that the UN is prepared for 'very close' coordination with Turkey in possible operation in northern Syria and that Ankara has given necessary guarantees on humanitarian issues.

FSA ready for potential operation

AA released footage on Sunday of military exercises and preparations of 2,000 FSA-affiliated Al Hamza division and Suleyman Shah group members in the military training areas in Syria's Afrin district.

Al Hamza division commander Sayf Abu Bakr said the completed military training was conducted within the scope of a possible operation east of the Euphrates River in Syria.

He said that the members of the FSA who participated in the exercise were taught combat tactics to tackle the field conditions.

"We completed our training to clear east of Euphrates from the YPG/PKK terrorist organization. We are ready for the operation," Abu Bakr said.

Al Hamza division was established in 2015 against Daesh and consists of 6,500 Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies