The White House said late Sunday that President Trump gave Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the green light to attack Kurdish-led forces in Syria that participated in the long, hard-fought battles that reclaimed all territory occupied by ISIS.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a multiethnic and multisectarian fighting force that includes Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, defeated ISIS in its declared caliphate capital of Raqqa in 2017 and in its last officially held Syrian territory in the Battle of Baghuz this March; the U.S. supported the SDF ground forces with airstrikes. The SDF holds tens of thousands of ISIS fighters, and has been asking repeatedly for international help as camps that include ISIS wives and children turn into breeding grounds of extremism.
In the White House statement, the administration took credit for defeating “the caliphate” and declared that, after a phone call between Trump and Erdogan, Turkey “will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria” and U.S. forces “will no longer be in the immediate area.”
“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 United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” the statement continues, never noting that it’s the SDF who holds the ISIS captives. “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial ‘Caliphate’ by the United States.”
Past administration members who opposed letting Turkey invade Syria to go after its Kurdish foes included former Defense Secretary James Mattis and former National Security Advisor John Bolton. “A Turkish attack will increase risks to our people, fracture the SDF, and enable ISIS’s resurgence,” tweeted Brett McGurk, former special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. “Clear picture.”
The SDF Coordination and Military Ops Center tweeted in response to the White House statement: “Based on our confidence in the #US efforts in the Security Mechanism agreement, we implemented all our commitments to remove military fortifications between Tal Abyad & SereKaniye, withdraw combat forces with heavy weapons, risking a security vacum [sp] as a result of the agreement.”
“But Erdogan’s threats are aimed to change the security mechanism into a mechanism of death, displace our people & change the stable & secure region into a zone of conflict and permanent war,” the SDF continued, stressing that any Turkish attack would “reverse the successful effort to defeat #ISIS, where #SDF sacrificed 11K martyrs of our sons & daughters over 5 years of war, which led to destroy the caliphate & created stability & security for the people of NE #Syria.”
Other consequences: “A long-term war in the region making #Syria a permanent conflict area. While the international community look for Syria political solution, the Syrian people suffer years of war and migration. The return of leaders of #ISIS who are hidden in the desert & Euphrates Shield areas to in of NE #Syria. #ISIS cells will break their terrorist out of prisons (12K terrorists) & camps ( 70K #Daesh families) which is a threat to local & international security.”
A Turkish invasion would also “force the #Syrian people to subject to the extremist #terrorist organizations as #Nosra & #Daesh, that still retain more than 50K extremist terrorists, & also they are able to extend their reach all Syria.”
At a meeting of his Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) in Ankara this weekend, Erdogan lamented that though “Trump brought up the issue of withdrawal, the people next to him did not follow the instructions yet.”
Erdogan vowed to launch an air and ground campaign into Syria at any time. SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said in response, “We will not hesitate to turn any unprovoked attack by Turkey into an all-out war on the entire border to defend ourselves and our people.”