Turkish build-up along the border with Syria has been growing for months now, and a few weeks ago our Syrian Kurdish allies made it known that they were very nervous.
Despite the creation of a security zone on the border between Turkey and northeast Syria that has defused some tension in recent weeks, Syrian Kurds still fear the movement of Turkish ground and aerial forces in their backyard could be a prelude to an assault on the country’s Kurdish minority population.
“If they can, they will go to Damascus,” said Ilham Ahmed, a co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that are responsible for liberating northeastern Syria from the Islamic State, told Foreign Policy through an interpreter in a recent interview in Washington.
The debate over the area—which U.S. officials have labeled a “security mechanism” rather than a safe zone—is deeply personal for Ahmed, who grew up in the northwest Syrian town of Afrin. The Turks and their proxy forces swept into Afrin last year, waging a violent campaign on the Kurdish-controlled town. Ahmed’s entire family was forced to flee and now lives in tents outside the city, she said.
U.S. support to the Syrian Kurds has been a major source of tension between Ankara and Washington since the U.S. military began arming the group in 2014. The military arm of the SDF is led by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a mostly Kurdish militia that Ankara views as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Both Turkey and the United States have designated the PKK, which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey, a terrorist group.
Ankara has been pushing for a Turkish-controlled “safe zone” on the border for months as a necessary measure to address its security concerns. U.S. President Donald Trump even promised a 20-mile safe zone in a January tweet, which officials later walked back. But the Syrian Kurds fear a Turkish assault on the area’s civilian population, which Ahmed has said could be a “catastrophe” for her people.
Since the security mechanism—which involves joint U.S. and Turkish ground and aerial patrols between the Syrian border towns of Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ain—was established earlier this month, Ahmed said the SDF has kept to its side of the bargain. YPG fighters have surrendered the area to local security forces, removed fortifications and tunnels on the border, and withdrawn heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery by 12 miles.
But the presence of Turkish troops and military equipment on the border is still a threat, Ahmed said. The Kurds are particularly concerned about Turkish surveillance drones operating in the area as part of the joint patrols, she noted.
“Unless the border goes back to normality, where things on the border are normal with no troops on the two sides, then we cannot say that the problem is solved,” she said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threat to resettle 3 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey into the safe zone is also “troubling,” Ahmed said. Most of the refugees in Turkey are not native to northeast Syria, and their presence there could displace the Kurdish residents in that area, she added.
“Every day, there is escalation from Turkey and threats,” she said.
U.S. defense and military officials expressed cautious optimism that an uneasy peace between the Turks and the Kurds can be maintained. But experts say continued U.S. presence on the ground as a “credible interlocutor” will be key to assuring both sides.
Over the weekend, Turkish President Erdogan upped the threats considerably.
Turkey’s president, in his strongest warning yet, threatened Saturday to launch a military operation into northeastern Syria, where U.S. troops are deployed and have been trying to defuse tensions between Washington’s two allies — Turkey and the Syrian Kurds.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threats were a warning that a U.S.-Turkish deal to secure Syria’s troubled border with Turkey was faltering. He said a Turkish military operation against the U.S-backed Kurdish forces could begin “maybe today, maybe tomorrow.”
The Turkish military has been dispatching units and defense equipment to southeastern Sanliurfa province in the past month. Erdogan had expressed frustration, threatening a unilateral operation, but this was his most specific threat amid concerns from the Syrian Kurdish forces of a limited military operation.
“We have given all kinds of warning regarding the (area) east of the Euphrates to the relevant parties. We have acted with enough patience,” Erdogan said.
A Turkish military operation, however limited, would put major pressure on the more 1,000 U.S. troops in northeastern Syria and who operate closely with the Kurdish-led forces, whether to implement the security mechanism or in fighting IS.
The Turkish leader has repeatedly expressed frustration with Washington’s support for Kurdish groups in Syria. His threats continued despite a deal reached with Washington in August to carry out joint patrols and move Syrian Kurdish fighters away from the border.
Last night, the Trump regime issued a response to this that cannot be categorized as anything other than an invitation to Turkey to begin the wholesale slaughter of Syrian Kurds.
The White House said Sunday that Turkey will soon invade Northern Syria, renewing fears of a slaughter of Kurdish fighters allied with the U.S. in a yearslong campaign against the Islamic State group.
For months, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening to launch a military assault on the Kurdish forces in Northern Syria, many of whom his government considers terrorists. The Kurdish forces bore the brunt of the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State militants, and Republicans and Democrats have warned that allowing the Turkish attack would send a troubling message to American allies across the globe.
U.S. troops “will not support or be involved in the operation” and “will no longer be in the immediate area,” in Northern Syria, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in an unusual late-Sunday statement that was silent on the fate of the Kurds.
It was not clear whether that meant the U.S. would be withdrawing its 1,000 or so troops completely from northern Syria.
The announcement came after a call between President Donald Trump and Erdogan, the White House said.
Donald Trump just sold out Syrian Kurds to Erdogan, Assad, and Putin. And today that price came in blood.
Turkish forces carried out attacks against Kurdish forces and the anti-Assad Syrian Democratic Forces militia in Syria and Iraq near the Turkish border on Monday evening.
Turkish forces attacked SDF positions in the city of al-Malikiyah in the Hasakah area in northern Syria, according to Syrian state news agency SANA.
The SDF includes Kurds and others in eastern Syria which the US has helped train, assist and advise during the war on ISIS.
Earlier on Monday, the United States announced that it would be withdrawing from Syria.
Turkey will move forward with its long-planned military operation to create what it calls a "safe zone" in northern Syria and U.S. forces will not support or be involved in it, the White House press secretary announced early Monday morning.
"The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial 'Caliphate,' will no longer be in the immediate area," said the White House press secretary on Monday morning.
The SDF withdrew from an oil field in the Deir ez-Zor area and headed towards the Turkish border on Monday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The SDF lead protests against Iranian-backed militias in the Deir ez-Zor area in September.
Not only has Donald Trump created a hot war as a distraction to help himself, he's done it by betraying US Kurdish allies. Again.
It will be a lifetime before anyone trusts the US again.