Turkey to attack in northeast Syria; US forces to pull back

Late on Sunday, the White House issued a summary of a telephone call that US President Donald Trump held with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier that day.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Late on Sunday, the White House issued a summary of a telephone call that US President Donald Trump held with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier that day.

The White House statement explained that Turkey was about to attack in northeastern Syria and US forces will withdraw from the area where the Turkish military operation is to take place.

The White House said that “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,” it continued.

On Saturday, Erdogan told an annual conference of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), “We will carry out a ground and air operation” across the border into Syria, east of the Euphrates River. “Maybe, today; maybe, tomorrow,” he affirmed.

READ MORE: US warns Ankara, amid worry of Turkish incursion into northeast Syria

Turkish media reported on Saturday that the army was reinforcing its positions around Sanliurfa, across the frontier from the Syrian town of Tel Abyad.

And later on Saturday, Washington’s well-regarded Institute for the Study of War warned, “Turkish invasion of northeast Syria looks imminent.”

On Sunday, before the White House read-out was published, Turkey issued its own summary of the telephone conversation between Trump and Erdogan. It did not address the issue of an imminent attack. Rather, the Directorate of Communications, which issued Turkey’s read-out of the discussion, said that Trump had invited Erdogan to visit Washington next month, as it was reported by the state-run Anadolu Agency.

The Turkish readout created the impression that no major action would occur until after the two presidents met in November. But the White House read-out made clear that an attack is to be expected at any time, even as it failed to mention any invitation to Erdogan.

A Turkish assault on northeastern Syria raises many questions about the future of that area. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been America’s main ally in the war against the so-called Islamic State in Syria. They control a large swathe of territory—one-third of the country.

Yet Turkey considers the Kurdish component of the SDF—the People’s Protection Units (YPG)—as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK.)

If the self-administration of northeastern Syria is disrupted, it could easily lead to the re-emergence of the Islamic State. The White House statement did not address that problem.

Moreover, the SDF holds a large number of Islamic State fighters as prisoners, as well as their wives and widows, along with their children.

The White House apparently recognizes that the continued detention of those individuals can no longer be assured, but it holds others responsible for this situation.

“The United States Government has pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused,” the White House statement said.

“Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial ‘Caliphate’ by the United States,” it continued.

“The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” the White House said.