Trump: US to keep some troops in northeast Syria; maintain ties with SDF
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – US President Donald Trump announced shortly before noon on Wednesday that the US would now leave some forces in eastern Syria to keep control of the oil fields, while it would also continue to work with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF.)
At the same time, Trump also announced that the US is lifting the sanctions on Turkey that it imposed on October 14, following Turkey’s cross-border assault into northeast Syria.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Turkish government had told the administration that they would be ending combat operations, Trump said, and the temporary cease-fire the US brokered last Thursday would become permanent.
Somewhat surprisingly, Trump’s new position was welcomed by the SDF’s Kurdish commander, Gen. Mazloum Abdi. Trump said he had “just spoken” with Mazloum, describing him as “a wonderful man, the Commander-in-Chief of the SDF Kurds.”
And, indeed, Mazloum did welcome Trump’s announcement.
GEN.Mazloum:— Mustafa Bali (@mustefabali) October 23, 2019
2. We THANK President Trump for his tireless efforts that stopped the brutal Turkish attack and jihadist groups on our people.
Mazloum “was extremely thankful for what the United States has done,” Trump continued. “We had a great talk,” and “we’ve saved the lives of many, many Kurds,” he added. Mazloum “understands that.”
In his short address, Trump did not mention the accord reached between Russia and Turkey the day before. Indeed, The New York Times suggested Trump was, in fact, “taking credit for a tentative deal that will be enforced by Turkey and Russia.”
That deal provides for a buffer zone—30 kilometers deep—along Turkey’s border with Syria. The SDF is required to evacuate that area within 150 hours—or be “crushed” by Turkish forces, as a Kremlin spokesman warned the SDF on Wednesday.
Nicholas Heras, a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, suggested in a tweet that Mazloum’s support for Trump is likely due to a decision by the SDF leadership “that it is better to stay on Team USA than to bend the knee to Assad via Russia.”
There's a lot being left unsaid here. My suspicion is that the #SDF leadership has decided that it is better to stay on Team USA than to bend the knee to #Assad via #Russia. But what is going to happen to the #Syrian/#Turkish border zone, Semalka, etc.? #ISIS #Turkey https://t.co/vlnwDiLeNM— Nicholas A Heras (@NicholasAHeras) October 23, 2019
Trump emphasized that the SDF continued to secure the captured Islamic State fighters whom it has been holding, despite reports that some have managed to escape.
“Gen. Mazloum has assured me that ISIS is under very, very strict lock and key, and the detention and the detention facilities are being strongly maintained,” Trump said.
“There were a few that got out,” he claimed, “and they’ve been largely recaptured.”
However, on Tuesday, the US special representative for Syria, Amb. James Jeffrey, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee something quite different.
Jeffrey stated that the SDF held some 10,000 fighters, as he acknowledged that “dozens” had escaped. There were no plans to recapture them, he said.
Trump has emphasized the importance of Syria’s oil fields, and that is the reason for maintaining a residual US military presence in eastern Syria.
However, as Nicholas Heras advised Kurdistan 24, the prisons that hold the Islamic State fighters are not co-located with the oil fields, and those prisons cannot be secured without US backing.
Indeed, it may well be argued the Islamic State prisoners should be considered of greater significance in US national security considerations than the oil fields.
Suspicions exist that both Turkey and Syria have supported Islamic extremists, when it served their interests. Indeed, some fighters in Turkey’s proxy militia are virtually indistinguishable from the Islamic State, while Syria backed Al Qaida in Iraq, the Islamic State’s progenitor, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
They might well see the fighters currently under SDF detention as potential assets—and seek to gain control of those prisons for themselves.
“The SDF needs much more support, financial and material, if it is to maintain control over the prisons where ISIS fighters and their families are kept,” Heras advised.