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US military delegation to visit Turkey to discuss Syria withdrawal

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman says fight against Islamic State group will not slow down due to US withdrawal
US troop withdrawal could begin within a few weeks, Ibrahim Kalin says (AFP/File photo)

US military officials will visit Turkey later this week to discuss the withdrawal of American forces from Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman has said.

The announcement comes a few days after Donald Trump announced he would pull out about 2,000 US troops from the war-torn country, a move that angered several top US officials and some of Washington's closest allies.

"They will discuss how to coordinate [the withdrawal] with their counterparts," Ibrahim Kalin told a news conference in Ankara, about the US delegation's visit.

Kalin also said the pullout of US troops from Syria could begin within a few weeks.

Trump says he discussed 'highly coordinated' Syria pullout with Erdogan
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"Americans have uttered numbers such as 30-60 days, 60-100 days. We will see about that," he said. "This will have more to do with the coordination of the withdrawal process in the field."

Late on Monday, the White House said Trump is "open to a potential meeting" with Erdogan after receiving an invite from the Turkish president to visit Turkey next year.

On Sunday, Trump said he discussed the withdrawal with Erdogan before he made his surprise announcement last week.

Turkey has since vowed to take a leadership role in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria. Overnight on Monday, a Turkish military convoy arrived at the border with Syria, with local media reporting that some vehicles had entered the country.

"The two leaders agreed to ensure coordination between their countries' military, diplomatic and other officials to avoid a power vacuum which could result following any abuse of the withdrawal and transition phase in Syria," the Turkish presidency said in a statement this weekend.

The US has for years supported the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against IS.

Washington's support for the SDF has been a point of contention in its relationship with Turkey, however. Ankara views the SDF as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which it considers a terrorist group.

More US-Turkey meetings planned in January

On Monday, Kalin said the US withdrawal would not disrupt the fight against IS in Syria and would not allow the group to retake any territory in the country.

"As part of the global coalition to defeat [IS], we would like to express again that we will not allow such a thing to happen on Syrian soil, Iraqi soil or Turkish soil," said Kalin, adding that Turkey intends to increase its coordination with Russia in Syria.

Kalin said there would be further talks between the US and Turkey's foreign ministries and other departments, including a meeting planned in Washington on 8 January.

"There will be intensive traffic" between officials from the two countries, he said.

The fallout from Trump's announcement continued over the weekend, being met with anger and resentment from some observers, as well as key allies such as France.

"I deeply regret the decision" to pull out US troops, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis resigned late last week over the withdrawal, saying he was stepping down to allow Trump to have a defence chief whose views align more closely with his own.

Trump administration officials have said the president was annoyed by Mattis's resignation letter, which included an implicit criticism of his disregard for allies.

Despite the falling out, the Pentagon said on Monday that Mattis authorised Trump's withdrawal of US forces from Syria.

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