Turkey Says 'No Need' to Resume Offensive Against Kurds
By VOA News October 22, 2019
Turkey says there is "no need" to resume its military offensive against Syrian Kurds, saying the U.S. has told it that the Kurdish withdrawal from the northern Syrian border is complete.
Turkey made its announcement hours after the five-day cease-fire expired in the Turkish military incursion into what had been a Kurdish safe zone in northern Syria.
A Kurdish official said earlier that fighters had left the border region. A senior U.S. official said that the chief of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, Mazlum Abdi, told Vice President Mike Pence that all Kurdish fighters have withdrawn.
A senior U.S. official said Washington is working with Turkey to see the cease-fire become permanent.
Turkey launched its offensive when President Donald Trump ordered nearly all U.S. forces out of northern Syria two weeks ago.
"The truth was that it was not in Turkey's interest as a NATO ally to continue with that incursion," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
The Syrian Kurds fought alongside U.S. forces against Islamic State terrorists. But Turkey considers them to be linked with Kurdish separatists who have long fought for autonomy inside Turkey. Turkey calls the Kurds terrorists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan have agreed on joint control of the Syrian border region.
Kurdish fighters would be kept 30 kilometers from the entire 440-kilometer Turkish-Syrian border, and also withdraw from the towns of Manbij and Tel Rifaat.
"According to this agreement," Erdogan said, "Turkey and Russia will not allow any separatist agenda on Syrian territory."
Erdogan said Turkish and Russian forces would conduct joint patrols within 10 kilometers of the border, and the two countries would work together for the safe return of Syrian refugees now living in Turkey.
But Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu also disclosed another result of the two-week Turkish offensive: the escape of about 500 people, including Islamist fighters, from captivity in northern Syria after guards left their posts.
The United Nations said the Turkish attack has proved devastating for the region, with more than 176,000 people displaced, including nearly 80,000 children, and "critical infrastructure has been damaged."
After Trump withdrew most American troops from the region, Putin emerged as a key powerbroker to deal with the fate of the long but narrow strip of land where Erdogan wants to create a "safe zone." Erdogan has sought the removal of Kurdish fighters and communities established to help resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees who have been living in Turkey.
Putin said he believed the good relations with Turkey "will let us find an answer to even the most difficult questions."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, said Turkey needs Syria's permission to deploy its forces inside Syria, although Turkey so far has rejected any direct talks with the Syrian government.
Syrian state media quoted President Bashar al-Assad as calling Erdogan a "thief who robbed factories, wheat and fuel and is today stealing territory."
The five-day cease-fire largely held, although both Turkey and the Kurdish fighters have accused each other of violations.
A spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces contended in a statement to VOA's Kurdish service that although the Kurdish forces had honored the cease-fire, "Turkish army and groups supported by it continued attacking them, causing deaths and injuries among their forces."
Seven hundred or more U.S. troops have moved out of the border region, headed to Iraq, where the U.S. has already deployed 5,000 military personnel. Baghdad, however, said the new arrivals do not have permission to stay in the country.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper had said the additional troops would help defend Iraq and be available to conduct anti-terrorism operations against Islamic State insurgents inside Syria.
With Baghdad saying there was no agreement with the U.S. for the troops to be stationed in Iraq, Esper said on a visit to Saudi Arabia that "eventually their destination is home" back in the United States.
"The aim isn't to stay in Iraq interminably," Esper said, while adding that details of their deployment in Iraq would be worked out with Iraqi defense officials.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is keeping some troops near oil fields in northeastern Syria to protect them from being captured by Islamic State, Esper said Monday.
"We presently have troops in a couple of cities that [are] located right near that area. The purpose is to deny access, specifically revenue to ISIS and any other groups that may want to seek that revenue to enable their own malign activities," Esper said.
In a tweet Sunday, Trump said, "We have secured the oil."
Jeff Seldin, Nike Ching and the VOA Kurdish service contributed to this report.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|