President Donald Trump stunned his own officials along with the world when he decided last week to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan — a move that reportedly came after a phone call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
According to The Associated Press, Trump spoke with Erdogan on December 14 and emerged from the phone call prepared to order American forces home.
The Dec. 14 call came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu agreed to have the two presidents discuss Erdogan’s threats to launch a military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels in northeast Syria, where American forces are based. The NSC then set up the call.
Pompeo, Mattis and other members of the national security team prepared a list of talking points for Trump to tell Erdogan to back off, the officials said.
But the officials said Trump, who had previously accepted such advice and convinced the Turkish leader not to attack the Kurds and put U.S. troops at risk, ignored the script. Instead, the president sided with Erdogan.
After Trump was reminded by the Turkish president of his repeated statements that America’s only reason for being in Syria was to defeat ISIS, adding that the terrorist group had been 99 percent defeated, Trump turned to national security adviser John Bolton, who was listening in on the call, asking why U.S. troops remain.
Erdogan’s point, Bolton was forced to admit, had been backed up by Mattis, Pompeo, U.S. special envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey and special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk, who have said that IS retains only 1 percent of its territory, the officials said.
Bolton stressed, however, that the entire national security team agreed that victory over IS had to be enduring, which means more than taking away its territory.
But Trump was sold on pulling out the troops, and Erdogan — despite cautioning against a hasty withdrawal — reportedly offered Trump encouragement, according to The Hill.
NBC News reports that a senior White House official says that Erdogan personally promised to Trump during a phone call on Dec. 14 that his nation's military would effectively neutralize the remaining ISIS forces operating in Syria, which is estimated to be around 30,000 militants between Syria and neighboring Iraq.
“Erdogan said to the president, ‘In fact, as your friend, I give you my word in this,’” a U.S. official told NBC News. A second official confirmed the contents of the phone call to the news network.