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President Donald Trump's national security adviser said Sunday that U.S. withdrawal of its 2,000 troops in Syria will not be abrupt and also will be conditioned on Turkish assurances that it will not target Kurdish fighters allied with American forces.
John Bolton, during a visit to Israel for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said there is no timetable for the troop withdrawal, but that the U.S. presence is Syria is also not unlimited. Bolton's comments were the first public confirmation that the withdrawal process has been slowed from an initial indication that it would be carried out within 30 days.
Bolton said Trump "wants the ISIS caliphate destroyed," referring to Islamic State, which once claimed Raqqa in northern Syria as the capital of its religious territory in Syria and Iraq.
The national security adviser said "the timetable flows from the policy discussions that we need to implement."
Trump overruled U.S. national security officials and surprised allies with his Dec. 19 announcement he was withdrawing the American troops from Syria, where they have carried out air attacks on Islamic State and Syrian positions and advised Kurdish fighters. Trump's action, meeting a long-time pledge of his to get U.S. troops out of Syria, drew widespread protests, including from Republican lawmakers. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in protest.
Bolton said the U.S. wants assurances from Turkey about the safety of Kurdish fighters allied with the United States before the U.S. military withdraws.
"We don't think the Turks ought to undertake military action that's not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States at a minimum so they don't endanger our troops, but also so that they meet the president's requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered," Bolton told reporters.
Bolton was meeting Sunday night with Netanyahu, who has voiced concern about the U.S. troop withdrawal and continued worries about the Iranian military buildup in Syria.
The national security adviser is headed to Turkey on Monday, to find out what its objectives are in northern Syria and assurances that it will not kill Kurdish fighters. Turkey has carried out a three-decade fight against Kurds in southeastern Turkey.