February 23, 2019 / 8:05 AM / 7 months ago

Turkey tells U.S. not to leave power vacuum in Syria withdrawal - report

FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and Italy's Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta pose for a family photo during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s defense minister told Pentagon officials there must not be a vacuum of power during the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported on Saturday.

A senior U.S. administration official said on Friday Washington would leave about 400 U.S. troops split between two Syrian regions, a reversal by President Donald Trump that could pave the way for U.S. allies to keep troops in Syria.

“We reminded our partners that there should be no vacuum of power in any way during the withdrawal,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told Anadolu, describing his talks in the United States with acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

Trump had ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 U.S. troops Syria in December after saying they had defeated Islamic State militants in Syria. The abrupt decision sparked an outcry from allies and U.S. lawmakers.

But he was persuaded on Thursday that about 200 U.S. troops would join what is expected to be a total commitment of some 800 to 1,500 troops from European allies to set up and observe a “safe zone” in northeastern Syria, the U.S. administration official said.

Akar also said he repeated call for Kurdish YPG militia fighters, which Ankara regards as terrorists, to be removed from the “safe zone”, which Turkey wants to control.

Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Edmund Blair

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