“We discussed ISIS, our mutual involvement in Syria, and the slow and highly coordinated pullout of US troops from the area,” Trump said in a tweet on Sunday, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group. “After many years they are coming home.”
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Trump said he and Erdogan also discussed “heavily expanded” trade between the US and Turkey after the two NATO allies’ relationship went into a tailspin over the summer as a result of a number of issues.
Erdogan said in a separate tweet: “I had a productive call with (Donald Trump) today, in which we agreed to strengthen our coordination on a range of issues, including our trade relations and the developments in Syria.”
Later on Sunday, a US military spokesperson told AFP news agency that the order to pull US troops out of Syria had been signed, without providing further details.
Trump’s surprise decision on Wednesday contributed to the abrupt resignation of Pentagon chief James Mattis on Thursday. Mattis cited significant policy differences with the president as a reason for quitting.
On Sunday, Trump announced Mattis would be leaving his post on January 1, two months earlier than expected.
Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria also prompted the early resignation of the US’s top envoy in the fight against ISIL, Brett McGurk, who said he would leave at the end of the year, instead of in mid-February as previously planned.
Washington began air raids in Syria in 2014, a year before US ground troops moved in to fight the ISIL group and train Syrian rebels in the war-ravaged country.
I just had a long and productive call with President @RT_Erdogan of Turkey. We discussed ISIS, our mutual involvement in Syria, & the slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area. After many years they are coming home. We also discussed heavily expanded Trade.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2018
Turkey sends forces to the border
The conversation between Trump and Erdogan came amid activity at the Turkish-Syrian border, with Ankara sending reinforcements to the region.
Erdogan, who in the previous weeks threatened to conduct a military operation into northern Syria, said on Saturday that he might postpone the planned incursion on the armed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) group, after the US’s surprise announcement to withdraw its troops from Syria.
Washington has for years supported the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against the ISIL group in Syria, as part of an international coalition dominated by the YPG.
Ankara considers the US-backed YPG a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged attacks on Turkish soil since the 1980s as they sought autonomy.
The US has an estimated 2,000 US troops in Syria.
In the past two years, Turkey has conducted two offensives into northern Syria, dubbed “Euphrates Shield” and “Olive Branch”.