Turkey agrees with U.S. to pause Syria assault while Kurds withdraw
19 October, 2019, 6:22 am
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey agreed on Thursday to pause its offensive in Syria for five days to let Kurdish forces withdraw from a “safe zone” Ankara had sought to capture, in a deal hailed by the Trump administration and cast by Turkey as a complete victory.
The truce was announced by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, and was praised by President Donald Trump, who said it would save “millions of lives”.
But if implemented it would achieve all the main objectives Turkey announced when it launched its assault on Oct. 9: control of a strip of Syria more than 30 km (20 miles) deep, with the Kurdish militia, once U.S. allies, obliged to pull out.
It was also unclear if the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would fully comply with the agreement, which would leave Turkish forces in charge of a swathe of territory that the Kurds once held with U.S. military support.
SDF commander Mazloum Kobani told Ronahi TV the group would accept the ceasefire agreement with Turkey in northern Syria but said it was limited to the border areas running between the towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad.
Republican and Democratic senators accused Trump of having betrayed the Kurdish allies who were vital in fighting Islamic State militants, of brushing aside the humanitarian costs of Turkey’s invasion and of being outwitted by Ankara.
“The safe zone will be primarily enforced by the Turkish Armed Forces,” a joint U.S.-Turkish statement released after the talks said.
U.S. senators who have criticized the Trump administration for failing to prevent the Turkish assault in the first place said they would press ahead with legislation to impose sanctions against Turkey despite the ceasefire announcement.
A Turkish official told Reuters that Ankara got “exactly what we wanted” from the talks with the United States. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described it as a pause, solely to allow the Kurdish fighters to withdraw.
Kurdish fighters would be forced to give up their heavy weapons and their positions would be destroyed, Cavusoglu said. He declined to call the agreement a “ceasefire”, saying ceasefires could be agreed only by legitimate sides, and not by a Kurdish militia that Turkey considers a terrorist group.
“When the terrorist elements completely leave the safe zone, we can stop the operation,” Cavusoglu said.
Washington and Ankara will cooperate to handle Islamic State (IS) fighters and their families held in prisons and camps, the joint statement said, addressing concerns that the militant group might reconstitute and again attack Western targets.