ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey is ready to take over security in Syria’s Manbij, President Tayyip Erdogan told U.S. President Donald Trump in a telephone call on Sunday, the Turkish presidency said in a statement.
Erdogan said an attack that left four Americans dead last week in Manbij was an act of provocation aimed at affecting Trump’s decision last month to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
The attack occurred nearly a month after Trump confounded his own national security team with the surprise decision on Dec. 19 to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, declaring Islamic State had been defeated there.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack.
Manbij is controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia allied to the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG, which last month invited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into the area around the town to forestall a potential Turkish assault.
Ankara deems the YPG terrorists linked to the Kurdish PKK movement that has waged a decades-long insurgency on Turkish soil.
Erdogan and Trump agreed to accelerate and continue discussions between their chiefs of staff regarding a safe zone in the area, the statement said.
Last week, Trump suggested in a tweet creating a safe zone, without elaborating. The SDF said on Wednesday it was ready to help create the safe zone, as fears grow that the U.S. withdrawal will give Turkey the opportunity to mount a new assault.
Turkey wants the safe zone to be cleared of the Kurdish group.
“We said we won’t let you be here,” Prime Minister Fuat Oktay told broadcaster CNN Turk earlier on Sunday, addressing the PKK. “When we are talking about a safe zone, we talk about one in Turkey’s control.”