US gives Turkey go-ahead to invade northern Syria

7 days ago

US armed forces will step aside for a Turkish operation in northern Syria, prompting concerns it is abandoning its Kurdish allies.

The White House said the decision was made on Sunday evening following a phone call between President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

About 1,000 US troops currently in the region will be pulled out “soon”, leaving Kurdish fighters who fought alongside American forces in the years-long battle to defeat Islamic State militants by themselves.

For months, the Turkish president has threatened to launch a military assault against Kurdish forces across the border as he views them as a threat to his country.

Both Democrats and Republicans have warned that allowing a Turkish military assault could lead to a massacre of the Kurds, sending a concerning message to American allies around the world.

The White House press secretary said: “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into northern Syria.

“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.”

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The Kurdish-led SDF freed the northern Syrian city of Raqa from IS militants in 2017
Image: The Kurdish-led SDF freed the northern Syrian city of Raqqa from IS militants in 2017

The statement added that Turkey “will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years”, as France, Germany and other European nations they had come from have refused US requests to take them back.

After concerns were raised following the White House’s announcement, Mr Trump tweeted that the US was “supposed to be in Syria for 30 days” bu they stayed and “got deeper into battle with no aim in sight”.

He said under his government “100% of the ISIS caliphate” was defeated and “thousands of ISIS fighters, mostly from Europe”, were captured by the US.


A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said if Turkey goes ahead with an attack on Kurdish forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – led by the Kurds – will likely react with a large combat response.

This will almost certainly mean the complete withdrawal of US troops from across Syria, the official added.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted on Saturday: “We will not hesitate to turn any unprovoked attack by Turkey into an all-out war on the entire border to DEFEND ourselves and our people.”

A Kurdish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Kurdish-led forces have a legitimate right to self-defence.

Russia shows Sky News the aftermath of its campaign in Syria

Former US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in protest in December when Mr Trump announced he was withdrawing American troops from Syria and would not support Kurdish allies against a Turkish assault.

Mr Mattis and other Pentagon leaders voiced concerns the withdrawal would lead to a resurgence of IS in Syria, especially if the SDF abandons prisons holding the terrorist fighters in order to fight Turkey.

During the latest phone call between Mr Erdogan and Mr Trump, the two leaders also discussed Turkey’s plans to establish a “safe zone” east of the Euphrates River in Syria to provide a security buffer between the Turkish military and Kurdish forces.

Members of the Bethnahrin Women Protection Forces, an SDF  paramilitary group in the northwestern Syrian province of Hasakah
Image: Members of an SDF paramilitary group in the northwestern Syrian province of Hasakah

Mr Erdogan reiterated the necessity of the safe zone to eliminate the threats from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara considers a terrorist organisation, and to create the conditions necessary for the return of Syrian refugees.

Turkey, which currently hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, wants to settle up to two million refugees in the zone.

The Turkish presidency said after the phone call that Mr Erdogan and Mr Trump had agreed to meet in Washington next month.

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