Friday, October 18, 2019

Turkey Agrees to Pause Military Operations in Northern Syria

Five-day suspension comes with a U.S. pledge to facilitate a pullout by Syrian Kurdish fighters; Trump hails deal, but critics say it mainly fulfills Ankara's goals
Turkey agreed to suspend military operations in northern Syria for five days in return for a U.S. pledge to facilitate a pullout by Syrian Kurdish fighters, a deal President Trump hailed as “an amazing outcome,” but that some critics said mainly fulfilled Turkish goals.
Vice President Mike Pence reached the deal after five hours of talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday aimed at stopping a nine-day Turkish military incursion into Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria. The U.S. and Kurds have been allies in fighting Islamic State, but Turkey considers Kurdish forces to be terrorists.
In advance of the Turkish incursion, Mr. Trump had ordered parts of the 1,000-member U.S. force to withdraw from northeastern Syria, and bipartisan criticism of that move persisted on Thursday, even after the U.S.-Turkish deal was announced. Defense officials said they have no instructions to reverse the U.S. pullout or to help facilitate the Kurdish withdrawal.
“Today the United States and Turkey have agreed to a cease-fire in Syria,” Mr. Pence said, adding that Turkey would pause military operations for 120 hours while Kurdish forces withdraw from a “safe zone.” Once that withdrawal is complete, the cease-fire will become permanent, he said.
Commanders of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said the cessation took effect as planned at 10 p.m. local time Thursday. SDF head Mazloum Abdi told Ronahi TV, a Kurdish television channel, that the SDF will do what needs to be done to make it succeed.
But the Kurds didn’t say they would withdraw from the area, hand over heavy weapons and dismantle fortification—all conditions of the agreement reached by the U.S. and Turkey.
With the Kurds now in talks with Russia and Syria over the future of their semi-autonomous region in the country’s northeast, the Turkish incursion and the U.S. pullout added to an unpredictable security landscape.
“We have a very convoluted situation, with Russian, Syrian Army, Turkish, American, SDF and some [Islamic State] elements all floating around in a very wild way,” said James Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative for Syria, who accompanied Mr. Pence. “And we’re most concerned about getting our troops out of the way, which is what DOD is doing at this point.”
Russia, the main backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has warned Turkey that it would accommodate only a limited incursion inside Syria. Mr. Erdogan is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian resort town of Sochi on Tuesday to discuss the Syrian issue.
U.S. and Turkish officials said the deal called for Turkey to control a 20-mile-deep strip on the Syrian side of the border, but they didn’t address how wide it would be, or whether it would encompass towns where the Russian army has moved to fill the void created by departing U.S. troops.
Read the rest from the WSJ HERE.

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