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Turkey says it will still launch Syria offensive if US delays pullout

Foreign minister says Ankara will act against YPG even if the US pullout 'is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds'
Cavusoglu, left, said he was planning to have a phone call with Pompeo, right, on Thursday (Reuters)

Turkey will still launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces if the United States delays the withdrawal of its troops from the war-torn country, its foreign minister has said.

"If the [pullout] is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision," Mevlut Cavusoglu told Turkey's NTV television on Thursday.

"We are determined on the field and at the table... We will decide on its timing and we will not receive permission from anyone."

The warning comes as Middle East Eye revealed that US diplomats and military officials failed to present any specific details to their Turkish counterparts about Washington's plans to withdraw its forces from northern Syria during National Security Adviser John Bolton's visit to Ankara on Tuesday.

Turkey and the US are at loggerheads over the future of Syrian Kurdish forces after US President Donald Trump made a surprise announcement last month to pull out 2,000 troops from Syria.

Ahead of Trump's move, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to launch another operation in Syria targeting the US-backed Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

Turkish officials had a tense meeting this week with Bolton in Ankara aimed at coordinating the pullout process.

Erdogan, who has welcomed the pullout plan, accused Bolton of a "grave mistake" by demanding that Ankara provide assurances on the safety of the Kurdish fighters before Washington withdraws its troops.

Pompeo backs YPG

US forces have worked closely with the YPG, seen by Ankara as a "terrorist offshoot" of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is on a regional tour, said on Wednesday that Turkey had committed to protecting Washington's Kurdish allies who are fighting the Islamic State in Syria.

Asked in Erbil if Erdogan's pushback on the protection of the Kurds puts the withdrawal at risk, Pompeo told reporters: "No. We're having conversations with them even as we speak about how we will effectuate this in a way that protects our forces... It's important that we do everything we can to make sure that those folks that fought with us are protected and Erdogan has made commitments, he understands that."

Cavusoglu said some officials in the US administration had sought to deter Trump from the pullout plan and create "excuses" like Turkey is massacring Kurds, in reference to Pompeo's comments.

The foreign minister also said he was planning to have a phone call with Pompeo on Thursday.