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Pompeo 'optimistic' Syria Kurds, Turkey can be protected despite US withdrawal

The remarks were made to journalists in Abu Dhabi on Saturday [AFP]

Date of publication: 12 January, 2019

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Mike Pompeo said he believes there could be a way to protect Syrian Kurds while allowing Turks to "defend their country from terrorists" despite a US pullout from Syria.

Washington's top diplomat said he was "optimistic" there could be a way to protect Syrian Kurds while allowing Turks to "defend their country from terrorists" despite a US pullout from Syria.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the remarks while speaking to journalists in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

"We are confident we can achieve an outcome that achieves both of those," Pompeo said.

The Gulf emirate is his latest stop in a regional tour aimed at reassuring allies after a shock December announcement by President Donald Trump that US troops would be withdrawn from Syria.

Pompeo's remarks follow tensions between the US and Turkey over the fate of Washington's Syrian Kurdish allies in the fight against Islamic State jihadists.

Turkey had reacted angrily to suggestions that Trump's plan to withdraw troops was conditional on the safety of the US-backed Kurdish fighters, seen by the Turkish government as terrorists.

US-led operations against IS in Syria have been spearheaded on the ground by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces.

Turkey sees the backbone of that alliance, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), as a terrorist group linked to the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) which has fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

On Friday, Pompeo said that Washington recognised "the Turkish people's right and (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan's right to defend their country from terrorists". 

But, he added, "we also know that those are fighting alongside of us for all this time deserve to be protected as well."

Pompeo said he had spoken to Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

"Many details (are) still to be worked out but I'm optimistic that we can achieve a good outcome," he said.

On Friday, a spokesman said the US-led coalition in Syria began withdrawing its troops, less than a month after Trump made his shock announcement.

The force which has battled the Islamic State group since 2014 started scaling down but it remained unclear how long the drawdown process would last.

"CJTF-OIR has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria," spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan told AFP in a statement, referring to the US-led anti-jihadist force.

"Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements," he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the coalition had started scaling down its presence at Rmeilan airfield in the Hasakeh province in north-eastern Syria.

"On Thursday, some American forces withdrew from the Rmeilan military base," Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based monitoring organisation, said.

"This is the first such pullout of American forces since the US president's announcement" of a military withdrawal from Syria last month, he said.

The US-led coalition has several other bases across north-eastern Syria, as well as in neighbouring Iraq, where Trump has said his forces would remain.

A US defence official in Washington had earlier confirmed to AFP that equipment was being removed from Syria.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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