Turkey agreed to halt its military operation against Kurdish-held parts of Syria on Thursday after urgent negotiations with the US, according to a joint U.S.-Turkish statement shared by the White House.
“One week ago Turkish forces crossed into Syria. Earlier this week, President Trump took decisive action, to call on Turkish forces to stand down, to end the violence, to agree to negotiations,” Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday at a news conference. “Today the United States and Turkey have agreed to a cease-fire in Syria.”
But soon afterward, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu clarified it was a “pause” in an early indication that the agreement remains shaky.
The deal creates a five-day halt to Turkey’s incursion against a Syrian Kurdish militia that was allied with the US in the fight against the so-called Islamic State. It preserves sanctions that Trump placed on Turkey earlier this week but says they will be lifted once the offensive is fully stopped.
The deal represents a major concession to Turkey by agreeing that the country will take over a significant swath of Syria. And it sets up further complications with the Syrian Kurdish forces, known as the YPG, as it agrees they should surrender their heavy weapons. Ankara is wary of the group because of its ties to a rebel group that’s fought the Turkish state called the PKK.
The deal is almost certain to fail, said Brett McGurk, who until the end of last year served as Trump’s top envoy to US partners fighting ISIS.
“The US just ratified Turkey’s plan to effectively extend its border 30km into Syria with no ability to meaningfully influence facts on the ground,” McGurk tweeted.
President Donald Trump commented on the deal on Twitter, saying: “This deal could NEVER have been made 3 days ago. There needed to be some ‘tough’ love in order to get it done.”
“It’s a great day for civilization,” Trump added at a news conference, thanking Turkish President Erdogan and saying he “did the right thing.” “Sanctions won’t be necessary.”
Trump had been criticised by many, including Republicans, for his abrupt decision last week to withdraw US troops from northern Syria, essentially allowing Turkish forces to invade and leaving America’s Kurdish allies vulnerable to attack.
Turkey justified its operation against the Kurdish-controlled regions by saying they could be launchpad for attacks against its population by the PKK.
But the YPG’s close relationship has made it a popular cause stateside ― and lawmakers have promised to punish Turkey for trying to hobble it and threaten a rare island of stability in Syria where more than 2 million people, among them many non-Kurds like Arabs and Assyrians, are living under YPG protection.
Sens. Jim Risch and Bob Menendez and Reps. Eliot Engel and Michael McCaul, the most powerful members of the foreign policy committees in both chambers of Congress, on Thursday revealed sanctions they want to impose on Turkey over the operation. Wednesday’s bipartisan House vote to condemn Trump’s initial support of the Turkish operation shows there is an appetite in both parties to move ahead in that direction.
Tens of thousands of residents of the YPG-run areas have already fled their homes and the US has had to destroy outposts it had established in the region and abandon others to forces, like Russia, that have moved in to help the YPG.
Meanwhile, thousands of ISIS fighters and their detained supporters are in camps there and experts have warned that further chaos and uncertainty risks allowing them to break free and attempt to resurrect the so-called caliphate.