US President Donald Trump has laid out three choices for Washington in dealing with Turkey’s incursion into Syria, including a “deal” between Ankara and the US-allied Kurdish militias.
Noting that the Kurds and Turkey have been “fighting each other for 200 years” and that no US troops are in the area of Syria under attack by Turkish troops, the US president spelled out the options of his administration on Twitter, seemingly inviting a response from the general public.
One of the options was “send in thousands of troops and win militarily,” which he has not been inclined towards in the past. Another was to “hit Turkey very hard” with sanctions and financially. The last, not mentioned before, was to “mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!”
Asked which option he preferred, Trump said “I hope it’s going to be the last one.”
“I hope we can mediate,” he told reporters outside the White House on Thursday. “Turkey knows where I stand.”
The tweets come amid criticism from Trump’s his own party as well as the Democrats over his supposed “betrayal” of the Kurds and giving Ankara the “green light” for ‘Operation Peace Spring’ to carve out a “safe zone” along the border.
On Monday, Trump announced the pullout of some 50 US troops from the Syrian-Turkish border region, where they were advising and supporting Kurdish YPG and YJ militias. While Washington has relied on the Kurds to fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), Turkey considers both militias to be terrorist organizations.
Trump has defended his decision by saying he wanted to pull US troops out of “endless wars” in the Middle East, noting that IS has been “100 percent defeated” – a claim he repeated on Thursday.
According to Turkey’s foreign minister, Ankara was forced into this military op due to the U.S. supplying weapons to their enemies, the Kurds, in Syria:
“First, the US told us: wait, we will withdraw our forces. We waited, and they did not remove them. Then we agreed on joint patrols, which turned out to be cosmetic in nature. At the same time, they continued to supply the YPG with weapons. We put up with this for a long time, and, finally, our patience came to an end. We made this decision based on the situation in the field,” Cavusoglu said, speaking to CNN Turk on Thursday.
The foreign minister also challenged US efforts to prohibit Turkish warplanes from flying over Syrian airspace without its permission.
“The US is saying that without the permission of its coordination center in Qatar, not a single plane will take off. But we are fighting with terrorism here. And there is a decision by the UN on fighting terrorism…We have informed everyone, not because we need permission, but because we are members of a coalition and in order to prevent accidents and clashes. This is Syrian territory, and the US does not have the right to command Syrian airspace, and decide who gets to fly and who doesn’t,” Cavusoglu said.
He described the weapons supplied as being “sophisticated and heavy”:
“And the majority of them have been supplied by the U.S. even three days ago. Trucks full of weapons were supplied by the U.S. to this terrorist organization,” he said.
He mocked Washington for supporting a “terrorist organization” instead of Turkey, a “NATO ally.”
Speaking about the Turkey’s military incursion into Northern Syria, Cavusoglu vowed to take care of Daesh prisoners held in detention camps in Northern Syria after ridding the area of the Kurds.
“Our responsibility is to make sure that they will be held accountable for what they did. And we will make sure that they will not be released,” Cavusoglu said.
According to the Daily Sabah, Turkey plans to resettle 2 million Syrian refugees in the safe zone after it is cleared of the YPG/PKK presence, but Cavusoglu underscored that Ankara will not force the refugees to return.
“Already, 370,000 of them went back to these two areas [liberated in Turkey’s Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch Operations] voluntarily, and we do our best to supply what they need,” the Minister said. “It has been nine years we never forced refugees.”
In 1998, Syria and Turkey signed the so-called Adana agreement, which obliged Damascus to recognize Kurdish organizations as terrorists and cease all support. Turkey justifies its military incursion into Northern Syria by claiming that Damascus is not in control of its northern territories and therefore it falls upon Ankara to establish its own security. However, in his interview, Cavusoglu underscored that the 1998 agreement is still relevant and should be used as a basis for an eventual political settlement.
“When there is a political settlement in Syria, then we can talk about this,” Cavusoglu said.
The US State Department said it is working on ways to negotiate a ceasefire between the Kurds and Turks, a task given to them by Trump. The main goal is to “get this thing stopped”:
Commenting on measures that the US could take in the event that Turkey engages in “inhumane and disproportionate” moves against civilians during its military invasion into northeastern Syria, the official said that Washington could impose sanctions on Ankara.
“That would include ethnic cleansing, it would include in particular indiscriminate artillery air and other fires directed at civilian population. That’s what we’re looking at right now. We haven’t seen significant examples of that so far“, the official said.
“We gave information about the operation to the secretary general and we re-emphasize our expectation for strong solidarity from our allies,” Mevlut Cavusoglu told a joint press conference with Stoltenberg.
Putin commented today as follows:
“There’s areas in northern Syria where Islamic State’s militants have amassed,” the Russian president warned at the Commonwealth of Independent States’ summit in Turkmenistan.
Such buffer zones were guarded by Syrian Kurds but now “the Turkish army is moving in and the Kurds are abandoning those camps,” creating the power vacuum.
They could simply run away. I’m not sure whether the Turkish army could get it under control fast.
As combatting terrorism was high on the agenda at the gathering of the post-Soviet leaders, Putin devoted time to security issues.
Citing an estimate by Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, he said thousands of terrorists have found shelter in northern Syria, where Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring is taking place.