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Trump gives ‘green light’ to a Turkish military offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria

October 7, 2019

Turkish soldiers in northern Syria. – REUTERS / KHALIL ASHAWI – Archive

The White House says “Turkey will soon begin its long-planned operation in northern Syria”

He stressed that the US Army “will not support or be involved in the operation”

The White House has announced this Sunday that the president of the country, Donald Trump, has decided to give a 'green light' to a Turkish military offensive against Kurdish forces present in northern Syria, allies of Washington in the fight against the Islamic State.

In his statement, he stressed that Trump has spoken with his counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and that “Turkey will soon begin its long-planned operation in northern Syria,” which is an important turn of US policy in the country.

“The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation,” he said, before adding that these forces “after defeating the United States' territorial caliphate, will not be in the immediate area.”

He also reiterated that Washington “has pressured France, Germany and other European countries, where many captured Islamic State fighters arrived, who accept them back, but do not love them and have refused.”

“The United States will not take care of them for what could be many years and a great cost for the US taxpayer,” he said, while pointing out that “Turkey will now be responsible” for jihadists captured in the area.

Trump's decision opens the door to a Turkish military offensive in northern Syria against the Kurdish militia Popular Protection Units (YPG), the main element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDS), supported by Washington in the fight against the Islamic State.

Turkey considers the group as a terrorist because of its ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and has repeatedly called on the United States to withdraw its support.

The Turkish Army has increased in recent months its operations against the PKK in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq, where the group has numerous bases, while also arresting and imprisoning hundreds of Kurdish politicians in the country on charges of terrorism

In the case of the Syrian Kurds, Ankara already carried out in early 2018 an offensive – backed by rebel groups in the Arab country – against the YPG in the Afrin region, until then controlled by the Kurdish forces, arguing that the The presence of the group near the border posed a threat to their security.

Erdogan and other senior Turkish government officials have insisted for months on the need for a similar but larger-scale operation to create a 'safe zone' for Ankara.

THE 'SECURE AREA'

In recent weeks, Ankara has also said that this would allow the relocation of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees currently in the country, threatening to open the doors of the country so that these people go to Europe otherwise .

Specifically, the Syrian authorities have defended that this 'safe zone' must enter 32 kilometers into Syrian territory and extend over more than 480 kilometers, something that has already been equally criticized by Damascus.

Given this situation, the governments of the United States and Turkey announced on July 7 an agreement to establish a joint operations center and manage the 'safe zone' in the northern part of Syria, after months of negotiations in this regard.

Within the framework of these, the armies of both countries have worked on trust measures and carried out joint patrols in this area, while the YPG have destroyed fortifications and have withdrawn from it.

However, Ankara has repeatedly criticized in recent weeks what he considers as a slow start-up of the same and an unsatisfactory situation for his demands.

The situation has been one of the main sources of tension between the two allies – both prominent pieces in NATO -, already deteriorated by Washington's refusal to extradite the cleric Fetulá Gulen – which Ankara accuses of being behind the attempt to coup d'état of July 2017– and Turkey's decision to buy the S-400 air defense system from Russia.

EL REPLIEGUE

The White House has not given details on where US troops will withdraw – between 100 and 150 soldiers – who will leave the area or if this is a sign of a total withdrawal from the United States.

Trump himself advocated in December 2018 for a total withdrawal of US forces from the Arab country, although he finally reversed the criticism from the Pentagon and Intelligence services, as well as European and regional allies.

The US president’s announcement prompted his resignation to the then Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, who pointed to “irreconcilable differences” with Trump on political issues. Later, Brett McGurk, special envoy of the White House for the coalition that fights against Islamic State, resigned.

The jihadist group, which lost all its territories in Syria in March with the fall of the Baghuz locality, taken by the SDS, has since regained strength and carried out dozens of attacks in Iraq and Syria in recent months.

Intelligence sources cited by 'The New York Times' have also indicated that jihadists are repositioning their financial networks and carrying out recruitment tasks at the Al Hol displaced persons camp.

The camp, located in northern Syria and managed by the SDS with little international help, has since the fall of Baghuz into an area outside the law and a hotbed of the jihadist group's ideology.

In Al Hol there are about 70,000 people, including numerous relatives of jihadists, considered as fervent followers of the group, since they remained in the territory of the 'caliphate' until its final fall.

Therefore, official US sources have warned of the danger that could mean that the custody of these people would be out of control if the SDS had to deploy reinforcements in other areas because of a large-scale offensive by Turkey.