US Army Major General James B Jarrard, center, heads US-led Special Operations task force targeting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (AFP/file photo)
Turkey on Saturday slammed the President Donald Trump and the United States for sending what it called mixed messages on Syria, saying that Washington is sowing confusion by equivocating about its future role in the country.
President Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman also told reporters that Turkey was talking to Russia about the Syrian town of Tal Rifaat and would not need to intervene in the area given Moscow's assurances that the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia was not present there.
"The president of the United States says 'We're going to get out of Syria very soon' and then others say, 'No, we are staying'," Ibrahim Kalin said, referring to recent comments from Trump and other officials.
A U.S. pullout from #Syria could pave the way for an improvement in relations with Turkey and Russia. But it could also damage U.S. credibility as an ally, hamper the fight against Islamic State and weaken Washington's ability to pressure Iran. https://t.co/WGFIxg5uwbpic.twitter.com/0hz0cH8VZC
— Stratfor (@Stratfor) April 5, 2018
"Obviously it does create a lot of confusion on the ground, as well as for us. We would like to see some clarity, for them to decide what is the next step, what is the ultimate goal there."
Trump agreed in a National Security Council meeting this week to keep US troops in Syria a little longer to defeat the remnants of the Islamic State (IS) group, but he wants them out relatively soon, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.
Trump said in a speech last month that he wanted an early exit of US troops from Syria, a position that was seen as at odds with that of many other Washington officials.
Differences over Syria policy have strained relations between the United States and fellow NATO member Turkey. Washington has backed the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in the fight against IS.
Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group and in January launched a military operation in northern Syria's Afrin region to drive out the YPG.
Turkey, US 'understanding'
Turkey says it has an "understanding" with the United States about stabilising the town of Manbij and other Kurdish-controlled areas farther east of Afrin. Still, Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to push east if YPG forces do not leave the area around Manbij and move east of the Euphrates River.
The US has troops stationed near Manbij, raising the possibility of a potential clash with Turkish forces.
"We'd like to see concrete action on the ground" from the Americans on Manbij, Kalin said.
He also said intervention by Turkey would not be necessary in Tal Rifaat, since there was no YPG presence there now.
"At the moment, for Tal Rifaat we are talking to the Russians, and they have assured us the … YPG is not there," he said.
"If that's the case, we are OK with that."