In a surprise announcement late Sunday night, the White House Press Secretary released a statement that said, “Today, President Donald J. Trump spoke with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey by telephone. Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation in Northern Syria. The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in that operation, and the United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”
The statement does not make it clear if U.S. troops will fully withdraw from Syria or if they will just relocate. The statement also says, “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years.”
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Saturday that it would “not hesitate to turn any unprovoked attack by Turkey into an all-out war” to defend the region of northeast Syria that it controls.
The SDF responded to a threat by Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, who said on Saturday that Turkey will soon launch an “air and ground military operation” in northeastern Syria and warned it could happen “as soon as today or tomorrow.” The SDF is led by the Syrian Kurdish Militia YPG, who the Turkish government considers to be a terrorist organization.
In August, Turkey and the U.S. agreed to create a safe zone in Kurdish controlled Syria along the Turkish border to settle some two million Syrian refugees. Part of the deal was to clear the area of all the Kurdish fighters, which Erdogan complains the U.S. military has failed to do.
Erdogan and President Trump also agreed to meet in Washington next month to discuss the issues with the safe zone in northeastern Syria.
Washington has always hoped to avoid a military confrontation between Turkey and the YPG. The shortsighted policy of arming and backing an enemy of Turkey so close to their border was bound to have dangerous consequences.