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White House: Turkey to begin military operation in northern Syria

Turkey will soon invade northern Syria, the White House announced, casting uncertainty on the fate of Kurdish fighters allied with the US in the campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).

American forces “will not support or be involved in the operation” and “will no longer be in the immediate area”, press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement late on Sunday (0300 GMT Monday).

It was not clear whether that meant the United States would withdraw its 1,000 or so troops completely from northern Syria.

“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into northern Syria,” said the statement.

Grisham said following a call between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is to take custody of foreign fighters captured in the US-led campaign against ISIL, who have been held by Kurdish forces supported by the US.

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

France, Germany, and other European nations have refused US requests to take back nationals who fought with ISIL.

Turkey previously warned it would carry out military operations east of the Euphrates River, but put its plans on hold after agreeing with the US to create a “safe zone” inside Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey, which would be cleared of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) armed group.

Kurdish forces bore the brunt of the ground campaign against ISIL but are considered “terrorists” by the Turkish government.

The White House statement was silent on what would happen to the Kurds.

During the phone call with Trump, Erdogan expressed his frustration with the failure of US military and security officials to implement the agreement between the two countries, the Turkish presidency said.

Syrian refugees

Ibrahim Kalin, Turkey’s presidential spokesman, said on Monday the safe zone in northern Syria has two aims: to clear “terrorist elements” from the border and to return refugees safely to Syria.

Kalin said Turkey was not after territorial gain in any country. 

Turkey is home to 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Their presence has become a political issue as the country’s economy struggles to emerge from recession.

After eight years of war in neighbouring Syria, Ankara and NATO ally Washington agreed to establish a zone along 480km (300 miles) of the border that Turkey wants to be 30km deep (19 miles).

Under the Turkish plan, up to two million Syrian refugees would be settled in the area that would be cleared of the YPG.

Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged an insurgency against Turkey for 35 years.

Ankara and Washington consider the PKK a “terrorist” group but they diverge on the issue of the YPG, which forms the core of US-backed Syrian forces against ISIL.

Since agreeing to set up the zone in northern Syria, Turkey has repeatedly warned of unilateral military action if efforts do not meet its expectations, saying it would not tolerate any attempts by the US to stall the process. 

The ties between the allies have also been pressured over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 defence missiles and the trial of local US consulate employees in Turkey.

Article source: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/white-house-turkey-military-operation-northern-syria-191007034354242.html

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