After US green light, Turkey prepares military operation in Syria

Syrian Kurdish women carry flags and banners as they demonstrate against Turkish threats (AFP)
Updated 08 October 2019

After US green light, Turkey prepares military operation in Syria

  • The announcement followed a phone call between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan
  • American soldiers began withdrawing from observation posts along the Turkish-Syrian border, at Tal Abyad and Ras Al-Ain early on Monday

ANKARA: US troops will withdraw from northeast Syria ahead of an imminent Turkish military offensive against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its main component, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the White House said.

The announcement followed a phone call between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The US, which will not support or be involved in the operation, said it is giving Ankara responsibility for thousands of Daesh captives who are currently held in SDF facilities.

In its fight against Daesh, Washington has long backed the SDF, which Ankara considers a terrorist group.

The White House announcement angered the SDF, which said “American forces did not fulfill their commitments,” and it will cause a “great negative” impact on the war against Daesh.

American soldiers began withdrawing from observation posts along the Turkish-Syrian border, at Tal Abyad and Ras Al-Ain early on Monday.

Ankara is determined to establish a 300-mile-long, 18-mile-deep “safe zone” in northeast Syria, including the towns of Kobani and Qamishli, after the withdrawal of US forces to secure Turkey’s southern border and enable up to 2 million Syrian refugees to settle in the zone.

Turkish and US defense chiefs have discussed details of the zone in recent days, but the timing and scope of the operation are still unclear.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said: “Turkey will correct the demographics changed by the Syrian-Kurdish YPG in the region.”

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

If Ankara launches a military operation against Syrian Kurds, experts say it will pave the way for a Russian-brokered deal between Damascus, Turkey and the Kurds.

“The YPG is left with only two scenarios: Either ally with the (Syrian) regime to face Turkey and pull out from the southern flanks of areas under its control in order to defend the northern parts, or try to negotiate a new deal with the US in which the YPG retreats from limited border areas and maintains its presence in the south,” Dareen Khalifa, a senior Syria analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Arab News.

She said the latter option might be more difficult given the broken trust in US promises and the significance of the border towns to the YPG.

Trump and Erdogan are expected to meet in Washington in the first half of November. Meanwhile, US Sen. Lindsey Graham said: “I will do everything I can to sanction the Turkish military and economy if they set one foot in Syria.”

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, said Turkey’s long-term goal is to completely eradicate the YPG from northern Syria.

“But as this is close to impossible due to the YPG’s relations with the US, Russia and potentially the Syrian regime, Turkey is adopting a strategy through which it will change the facts on the ground in a limited way and continue negotiating with other actors until it’s ready to further change the facts on the ground, after which it will continue to negotiate from that point,” he told Arab News.

Unluhisarcikli said the last thing Turkey or the US want is their troops clashing in Syria. He added that while the US would certainly object to a massive Turkish incursion, or one that targets major Kurdish towns such as Kobani, it has begrudgingly chosen to turn a blind eye.

“There are wide swathes of territory in northern Syria without a significant Kurdish population, and Turkey will probably limit its incursions to those territories for the time being,” he said.


Erdogan hit by more arms bans as pressure grows over Syria invasion

Updated 22 min 3 sec ago

Erdogan hit by more arms bans as pressure grows over Syria invasion

  • United States threatens more sanctions
  • Britain, Spain and Sweden joined Germany and France in suspending military exports

ANKARA: Three more countries halted arms sales to Turkey on Tuesday as pressure mounted on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the Turkish invasion of northeast Syria.

Britain, Spain and Sweden joined Germany and France in suspending military exports, and the US threatened Ankara with more sanctions unless Erdogan halts the offensive.

“We will keep our defense exports to Turkey under very careful and continual review,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. “No further export licenses to Turkey for items which might be used in military operations in Syria will be granted while we conduct that review.”

Spain, a major arms exporter to Turkey, urged Erdogan to “put an end to this military operation” because it endangered regional stability, increased the number of refugees and threatened Syria’s territorial integrity.

“In coordination with its EU partners, Spain will deny new export licenses for military equipment that can be used in the operation in Syria,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Sweden also halted exports of military combat equipment. “Two permits that have been active have now been recalled,” it said.

BACKGROUND

Vice President Mike Pence will hold talks with Erdogan in Ankara on Wednesday, and the UN Security Council will discuss the invasion.

Erdogan’s assault against Kurdish forces, launched last week, has prompted a chorus of international condemnation. “Many NATO allies are very critical and are condemning the military operation in northern Syria,” said Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO, the Western military alliance of which Turkey is a member.

Russia’s presidential envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, said Turkey had no right to deploy its forces in Syria permanently, and Moscow had not approved the operation.

US President Donald Trump imposed new sanctions on Turkey on Monday, and on Tuesday the US said more sanctions would follow unless the invasion was halted.

“The plan is to continue the pressure on Turkey as we evaluate our chances to return the relationship to normal, a major element of that return to normal would be a cease-fire,” a senior administration official said. “And by cease-fire what I mean is forces on the ground stop moving on the ground.”

Vice President Mike Pence will hold talks with Erdogan in Ankara on Wednesday, and the UN Security Council will discuss the invasion.