National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster met with senior Turkish officials Sunday to reaffirm the long-standing partnership between the two NATO allies, as Ankara continues to issue thinly-veiled threats against U.S. forces in northern Syria.
Gen. McMaster, who led the U.S. delegation during the two-day diplomatic visit to Turkey, “discussed the priorities and concerns of both countries … their common strategic challenges and regional developments” with İbrahim Kalın, spokesman and special adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to a White House readout of the meeting released Sunday.
There was no mention of the ongoing war or words between Ankara, which is engaged in a brutal counterterrorism operation in the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin, and U.S. and coalition commanders who are warning Turkish forces to stay out of American-controlled territory in Manbij and northeastern Syria.
Rather, the administration’s readout of the meeting said both men “addressed issues affecting bilateral relations in detail and explored ways to expand the joint fight against all forms of terrorism.”
Top U.S. military commanders, including Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel, have said the Pentagon is not considering any withdrawal of U.S. forces from Manbij or the larger eastern Euphrates River Valley.
American advisers have been based with their Kurdish and Arab counterparts since the fall of Islamic State in the country late last year.
Gen. McMaster’s visit comes less than a week after President Erdogan called upon Washington to withdraw its cadre of U.S. military advisers from Manbij, or risk attack from Turkish counterterrorism forces.
“Over 90 percent of Manbij is Arab land. Why are you still there? Come on, get out,” the Turkish leader said Wednesday, taking direct aim at American military support for Syrian Kurdish paramilitary forces Ankara claims are directly linked to Kurdish terrorist organizations.
“You are still telling us not to approach Manbij. We will come to Manbij to give it back to its true owners,” he added during a political rally for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Turkish troops crossed the country’s southern border into Syrian territory late last month, targeting the the majority Kurdish city of Afrin in northeast Syria. The incursion, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, sought to flush out fighters loyal to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.
Large elements of the YPG or Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) make up the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S.-backed confederation of Arab and Kurdish paramilitaries who flushed ISIS from its Syrian capital of Raqqa last year. U.S. forces continue to train and equip SDF fighters — including those tied to the YPG and PYD — in Manbij as the anti-ISIS offensive continues in Syria.