News ID: 259874
Published: 0253 GMT October 07, 2019

US pulls back troops in northeast Syria, opening way to Turkish attack

US pulls back troops in northeast Syria, opening way to Turkish attack

Trump says ‘too costly’ to back Kurdish militia

The United States began pulling troops back from the northeast Syria border on Monday, opening the way for a Turkish strike on Kurdish-led forces long allied to Washington, in a move US President Donald Trump hailed as a bid to quit “endless wars.”

The major policy shift, which hands Turkey responsibility for thousands of terrorist prisoners, was denounced as a “stab in the back” by the Kurdish-led militia who have been Washington’s partner in Syria, Reuters reported.

The forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), accused Washington of reneging on an ally, warning it would have a "great negative" impact on the war against the terrorists.

But Trump said in several tweets that it was too costly to keep supporting Kurdish-led forces fighting the Daesh terror group, adding, “It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars.”

“The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades,” Trump tweeted. “Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out.”

In a sign of deepening humanitarian concern, a UN official reacted to the move by saying civilians must be spared in any Turkish operation in the northeast, adding the United Nations hoped that displacement and atrocities can be prevented.

“We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst,” Panos Moumtzis, UN regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, told reporters in Geneva.

A US official said American troops had withdrawn from two observation posts on the border, at Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain, and had told the commander of the SDF that the United States would not defend the SDF from an imminent Turkish offensive. US troops elsewhere in Syria remain in position.

The pullback will initially be limited in scope to a patch of territory near the Turkish border where both countries had been working to establish a special security area, a US official told Reuters on Monday.

The official did not say whether the troops would leave the country or reposition elsewhere in Syria, where the United States has around 1,000 forces.

Another US official said any unilateral Turkish military offensive in Syria was a "bad idea" and the United States "will not help it in any way, but will also not resist it".

In a statement after Trump spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday, the White House also stressed that US troops would not support the operation. 


‘War zone’

Erdogan said US troops had started to withdraw from parts of northeast Syria after his call with Trump. He said he planned to visit Washington to meet Trump in the first half of November where they would discuss plans for the "safe zone".

Turkey has long argued for the establishment of a 20-mile (32 km) "safe zone" along the border, under Turkish control, driving back the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia – which is the dominant force in the SDF alliance and which Ankara considers a terrorist organization and a threat to its national security.

The SDF accused Washington of betraying its ally.

"The American forces did not fulfil their commitments and withdrew their forces from the border areas with Turkey, and Turkey is now preparing for an invasion operation of northern and eastern Syria," it said in a statement.

A Turkish official said the US withdrawal could take one week, and Turkey would likely wait until it had been completed before launching an offensive.

The White House statement appeared to hand Turkey responsibility for Daesh captives who are held in SDF facilities south of Turkey's initially proposed safe zone.

"Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years," it said. The statement made pointed reference to Washington's European allies, saying many captured Daesh terrorists came from those countries, which had resisted US calls to take them back.

"The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer," it said.

In the first Turkish comment following the statement, Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Turkey's "safe zone" plan was within the framework of Syria's territorial integrity.

"The safe zone has two aims: to secure our borders by clearing away terrorist elements and to achieve the return of refugees in a safe way," Kalin wrote on Twitter.

However the Kremlin, the strongest foreign ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said Syria's territorial integrity had to be preserved and Moscow continued to seek the withdrawal of all foreign forces illegally present in Syria.

Turkey says it wants to settle up to two million Syrian refugees in the zone. It hosts 3.6 million Syrians sheltering from their country's more than eight-year-old conflict.




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