Turkey Sets Deadline for SDF Withdrawal from Northern Syria

Both the US and Russia are trying to avert a Turkish invasion

Turkey has set a deadline for the withdrawal of the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from areas of northern Syria near the Turkish border, a Turkish source told Al Jazeera.

Both the US and Russia are trying to avert a Turkish invasion of northern Syria, and the source said Ankara has asked Washington and Moscow to press the SDF to withdraw. Turkey wants the SDF to leave the cities of Manbij, Tal Rifaat, and Kobane within two weeks, or it will launch a ground operation.

Turkey considers the SDF to be an affiliate of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which Turkey, the US, and the EU have labeled as a terrorist organization. Ankara launched a series of airstrikes against the SDF at the end of November after blaming a bombing in Istanbul on the PKK.

Axios reported Wednesday that CIA Director William Burns warned Turkey that its air and artillery strikes in northern Syria endanger US troops that are stationed in the region.

Turkey has been threatening to launch a ground invasion and is seeking a buffer zone between its border and SDF positions. In response to Turkey’s proposal, the Al Jazeera report said the US suggested restructuring the SDF so Arab members could be deployed to areas near Turkey.

The US has about 900 troops in SDF-controlled areas of Syria, keeping the territory out of the hands of Damascus. The US paused patrols with the SDF as a result of recent Turkish airstrikes but said they resumed this week.

The SDF has been wanting the US to do more to help avert a Turkish attack and is also open to making a deal with the Syrian government, but the US occupation in Syria would complicate such an arrangement. Mazloum Abdi, the head of the SDF, told the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that he wants the SDF to become part of the Syrian government’s army and is in talks with Damascus on the issue.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of Antiwar.com, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.