File photograph: Kurdish YPG fighters in 2014 (Kurdishstruggle)
The US has consented to a withdrawal of troops from northern Syria to allow for a Turkish offensive in the Kurdish region, disregarding their long-held alliance with the Kurds.
This decision follows a phone conversation between US president, Donald Trump, and Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday. In return for the US withdrawal, Turkey would claim custody of all captured IS fighters. Shortly before 11 pm on Sunday, the White House issued a statement which read:
“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.”
“[...] The US will not hold them [IS fighters] for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer. Turkey will now be responsible for all Isis fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial caliphate by the United States.”
On Monday, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) reported that the US had already begun withdrawing troops from areas along Turkey’s border and identified US armoured vehicles leaving positions near the towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad in the border region.
In response to this withdrawal, SDF spokesman, Mustafa Bali, accused the US of leaving the area to “turn into a war zone”, adding that the SDF would “defend north-east Syria at all costs”.
In August, the US had agreed with Turkey to create “safe zones” in northern Syria, by which the US-backed Kurdish-led SDF would pull back from the border. This was intended to forestall offensive movements from Turkey.
Turkey planned to use these “safe zones” to eradicate Kurdish militant groups such as the YPG, which Turkey has labelled a terrorist offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a separatist group in Turkey which has been operating for the last 35 years.