U.S. and Turkish defense officials met today at the Pentagon to discuss the future of operations in Syria and the other areas where the two countries fight together.
“Today’s meeting is really about talking about the next steps,” said Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan, who spoke to reporters before a full-honors arrival ceremony for Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on the Pentagon parade ground.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Yasar Guler of the Turkish army, the commander of the Turkish armed forces, joined their civilian chiefs in the meeting.
Syria dominated the discussion. President Donald J. Trump announced the U.S. presence in the country will draw down as the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria concludes. That will curb the physical caliphate that the terror group declared at its apogee, but will not end efforts to prevent the group from reconstituting.
“I’m confident that we can continue the campaign,” Dunford said before the meeting. “We had always planned to transition to a stabilization phase where we train local forces to provide security to prevent the regeneration of ISIS. So, there is no change in the basic campaign. The resourcing is being adjusted because the threat has been changed.”
Shanahan, who has met with Akar before at various NATO and Defeat-ISIS meetings, is building on a long history of cooperation between the two nations. The United States and Turkey have been partners since the end of World War II, and Turkey fought in the United Nations Forces during the Korean War. The nation joined NATO in 1952 and served as an anchor for the alliance during some very tough times against the Soviet Union.
“Now the partnership continues in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo,” Shanahan said at the top of the Pentagon meeting. “Today’s meeting is very important, because we need to continue to do our excellent planning to find solutions, in particular to Syria.
“I think we all recognize that it is very complex, but we have the smartest people available to work on this situation,” he continued. “I look forward to the progress we will make today and at our next meeting and the meetings after that.”
The defense officials met the day after Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke via telephone of the bilateral relationship between the nations. “As true strategic partners and allies, we should continue the close cooperation in our fight against all terrorism,” Akar said. “In this regard, we should share our determination to fight against all terrorist organizations.”
The defense minister made a point of saying Turkey has no problems with the Kurdish people, but does oppose groups that sponsor terrorism.