Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan greets US Vice President Mike Pence, Presidential Palace, Ankara, Turkey, October 17, 2019
The Trump Administration has reconfirmed its acceptance of Turkey’s control of northeast Syria through cross-border operations, in an agreement with Ankara on Thursday.
The agreement between the Erdoğan Government and a visiting US delegation, led by Vice President, was cast as a five-day “pause” in the offensive by Turkish forces and Syrian rebels, which began on October 9.
But in effect, it is an ultimatum to the Kurdish militia YPG to withdraw from the area, 480 km (270 miles) long and 30 km (19 miles) deep along the Turkish-Syrian border, which Ankara is seeking to occupy. The territory cuts across the Kurdish cantons of Kobani and Cezire.
Turkey is also demanding that the militia give up its heavy weapons, many of which were supplied by Washington.
The deal completed the US abandonment of the Syrian Democratic Forces, in which the YPG is the leading element, which was created in October 2015 to remove the Islamic State from the northeast.
Turkey considers the YPG to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK, which has fought Ankara’s forces for 35 years.
The US shift was set in motion on October 6 when Donald Trump, during a phone call with Erdoğan, accepted the cross-border offensive and said he would withdraw US troops from the area.
The Pentagon tried to push back, with 500 of the 1,000 American personnel in Syria alongside the SDF. But the Administration confirmed the withdrawal from the northeast last weekend.
Thursday’s agreement both confirmed and tried to cover up the US departure, “The safe zone will be primarily enforced by the Turkish Armed Forces.”
Mazloum Kobani, the commander of the SDF, said the force would accept the ceasefire but limited it to the border near the towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad, both of which have been under attack by the Turkish-rebel offensive.
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A Turkish official said Ankara got “exactly what we wanted” with the agreement. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu drove home that the YPG will be disarmed of heavy weapons and its positions will be destroyed.
Turkey will end the operation in northern Syria only after YPG/PKK terrorists leave [the border area]…”The US side, as part of protection of Turkey’s legitimate security interests, acknowledged the importance and functionality of the safe zone.
The Foreign Minister added, “When we pause the operation, the US will stop the sanctions attempts [against Ankara].”
Trying to push back against Trump’s acceptance of the offensive and to limit the attacks, the US Treasury had announced some restrictions and Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin threatened Trump’s signature of comprehensive measures. In an unusual letter to Erdoğan — written on October 9, the day of the offensive’s launch, but released on Wednesday amid domestic criticism of his actions — Trump says he could destroy Turkey’s economy and told the President, “Don’t be a tough guy! Don’t be a fool!”
Erdoğan mocked the letter, saying he “threw it in the bin” and declaring on Friday that he would respond to Trump by doing “what is necessary will be done when the time is right”.
, and kept up the pressure on Friday: “If the promises are kept until Tuesday evening, the safe zone issue will be resolved. If it fails, the operation…will start the minute 120 hours are over.”
Significantly, he added that Turkey would be amenable to Assad regime forces, backed by Russia, entering the area taken by the Turkish-rebel offensive —- while at the same time insisting that Turkey can resettle up to two million refugees, many of whom fled the regime’s repression of the 2011 uprising, in the “safe zone”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited Erdogan to talks in Sochi in southern Russia next week.
Trump: “Millions of Lives Will Be Saved”
Despite the agreement, shelling continued on Friday morning along the Turkish-Syrian border.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said, “Air and artillery attacks continue to target the positions of fighters, civilian settlementsm and the hospital” in the town of Ras al-Ain.
Meanwhile Trump, appearing oblivious to the developments on the ground, declared his masterful handling of the situation:
This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this “Deal” for many years. Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2019