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Pompeo says Turkey to 'protect' Syrian Kurdish fighters

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Turkey promised to protect Kurdish fighters in Syria in the wake of President Donald Trump's decision to pull out American troops
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Turkey promised to protect Kurdish fighters in Syria in the wake of President Donald Trump's decision to pull out American troops POOL/AFP
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Washington (AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Turkey had promised to protect Kurdish fighters in Syria as he left on a regional tour that follows President Donald Trump's abrupt decision to pull troops.

Pompeo said the assurance came from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had repeatedly threatened US-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria battling the Islamic State extremist group, also known as ISIS.

Erdogan had spoken with Trump shortly before the US leader's December 19 declaration that ISIS was defeated and that he would quickly pull all 2,000 US troops out of Syria.

"President Erdogan made a commitment to President Trump as the two of them were discussing what this ought to look like -- that the Turks would continue the counter-ISIS campaign after our departure and that the Turks would ensure that the folks that we'd fought with, that had assisted us in the counter-ISIS campaign, would be protected," Pompeo told CNBC television.

Pompeo was elaborating on his remark last week that the United States was working to ensure that "the Turks don't slaughter the Kurds" -- a choice of words that angered Turkey, which said the top US diplomat had a "worrying lack of knowledge."

The US-backed Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units form the backbone of the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces, but Erdogan considers them linked with the PKK, which has waged a bloody insurgency inside Turkey in the name of the Kurdish minority.

Pompeo is traveling to visit eight Arab capitals to discuss Syria and also to build an alliance against regional power Iran, a top priority of Trump.

Parallel to Pompeo's trip, National Security Advisor John Bolton is set to hold talks Tuesday in Turkey after a visit to Israel, which has been especially concerned about a US withdrawal.

In Jerusalem, Bolton walked back Trump's initial announcement by tweet, saying the United States wanted to ensure "that ISIS is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again."

Trump has also spoken recently of "slowly" withdrawing.

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