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Turkey to ask US to hand over Syria bases, as Erdogan slams Bolton over Kurds

President Erdogan has slammed US national security adviser over 'insulting comments' [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 January, 2019

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Turkey will demand the US hand over its military bases in Syria to the Turkish army or destroy them before withdrawing from the war-torn country

Turkey will demand the US hand over its military bases in Syria to the Turkish army or destroy them before withdrawing from Syria, a Turkish newspaper has reported.

It comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed visiting US National Security Adviser John Bolton over remarks seen as insulting to Ankara.

"Give them or destroy them," a headline in Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper said on Monday, referring to what it said were 22 US military bases in Syria.

The newspaper cited unspecified sources as saying Turkey would not accept Washington handing them over to US-backed Syrian-Kurdish fighters that Ankara designates as terrorists. 

The report comes amid tensions between the US and Turkey over the fate of US-backed Kurdish militias in Syria.

On Tuesday, Turkey's President Erdogan slammed Bolton over comments demanding Turkey agree to protect Kurdish forces in Syria before withdrawing from the war-torn country.

Speaking to members of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in parliament, Erdogan said John Bolton had made a "serious mistake" in calling for new conditions for the US withdrawal, adding that Turkey could never compromise on the issue of the Kurdish-dominated People's Protection Units militia.

The YPG makes up the bulk of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting the Islamic State group, but the militia is regarded as a terror group affiliated to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) by Turkey.

Erdogan made the comments on Tuesday, just hours after Bolton met with Turkish officials seeking assurances that Ankara won't attack Kurdish-Arab militia in Syria. Bolton is understood to have left Turkey without meeting Erdogan, in an apparent snub.

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President Donald Trump's shifting timetable for a US troop withdrawal from Syria has left allies and other players in the region confused and jockeying for influence over the US strategy, which appeared to be a work in progress.

One day after White House national security adviser John Bolton announced the US pull-out would not be as immediate as Trump had initially declared, US allies on Monday sought clarification from American diplomats.

The Kurds - who have fought alongside US forces against the Islamic State group and fear an assault by Turkey following a withdrawal - are seeking a clear and public explanation from Washington about their plans in Syria.

Bolton had said the US would first seek assurances from Turkey that it would not harm the Kurds - for the first time adding a "condition" to the withdrawal, but his efforts seem to have now failed.

US President Donald Trump appears to have qualified a previous promise to swiftly pull-out from Syria saying the withdrawal would be done in a "prudent" manner.

Trump said the fight against the Islamic State group will continue until the militants have been defeated.

"We will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!" Trump tweeted, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

This follows the surprise announcement in late December that US troops would be withdrawn from Syria "immediately".

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