- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Russia and Turkey on Tuesday struck a deal to jointly patrol a large zone in northeast Syria recently monitored by American forces and to remove Kurdish forces that remain in the region as the U.S.-brokered Turkey cease-fire expired.

Filling a power vacuum sparked by President Trump’s to pull back U.S. forces in Syria, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Russian military police and Syria government forces will help push back U.S.-allied Kurdish forces from a 18-mile-deep buffer zone along the border on Wednesday.

There were no reports of major fighting when the U.S. cease-fire expired, as Kurdish officials said their fighters were obeying the mandate to pull back. The Russian-Turkish pact gives the Kurds roughly six days to evacuate virtually the entire strip along the Turkish border.

The political fallout from Mr. Trump’s decision continued to be felt in Washington as the State Department’s point man on the Syria crisis told a Senate panel Tuesday that he was not consulted prior to the announcement to U.S. forces were pulling back. The U.N. said Tuesday the Turkish incursion so far has damaged “critical infrastructure” in the area and displaced more than 176,000 people, including nearly 80,000 children.

In a sign of the bipartisan opposition to Mr. Trump’s move, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced legislation Tuesday denouncing Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria and urging Mr. Trump to halt his withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Veteran diplomat Ambassador James Jeffrey acknowledged to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he “was not personally consulted before” the Pentagon was ordered to move forces out of the region, clearing the path for a Turkish military offensive in northeast Syria in a region that is heavily populated by American-backed Kurds.

Mr. Jeffrey told lawmakers the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “acted unwisely and dangerously” by launching its offensive in the zone, “despite warning after warning and incentive after incentive” from the Trump administration.

The deal between Mr. Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin was announced following a six-hour meeting after which they laid out a 10-point plan to patrol the zone. Mr. Erdogan said the agreement “will start a new era toward Syria’s lasting stability and it being cleared of terrorism.”

Analysts said the pact solidifies Moscow’s influence in the region following President Trump’s surprise announcement to withdraw U.S. forces earlier this month.

Mr. Trump has slightly modified his original withdrawal plan, with the Pentagon saying a deployment of around 200 special operations forces may stay in eastern Syria to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State and safeguard valuable Syrian oil fields. But U.S. plans to relocated American troops from Syria to neighboring Iraq met resistance from Baghdad, where officials say the new troops have not been given permission to stay.

U.S. troops — who for five years fought alongside Kurdish forces in the fight to defeat the Islamic State caliphate — were pelted with potatoes that hit the sides of American armored vehicles as they departed a town in northeast Syria as part of the withdrawal. Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CNN Tuesday the relocated U.S. forces would only be in Iraq temporarily before being sent home at a later date.

Despite the lack of prior notice, Mr. Jeffrey defended the administration’s move in the face of stinging criticism from senators of both parties Tuesday, saying the U.S. is pressing from a”more permanent cease-fire,” but that a deal has yet to be struck between the U.S., Turkey, and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and a sharp critic of the Syria withdrawal and the abandonment of the Kurds, said he had spoken with Mr. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about a permanent cease-fire that also has yet to be announced. The South Carolina Republican told The Washington Times that he plans to speak with the president about a deal that could involve a buffer zone patrolled by global allies. But the international partners in this effort remain unknown.

International Crisis Group President Robert Malley, the special envoy to Syria under President Obama, said “if the Kurds are prepared to withdraw from this area — which they haven’t been in the past — there are some European countries that are now saying they are now prepared to contemplate it, Germany in particular.”

But Mr. Malley, who now serves as the president of the ICG, noted there was a “vast discrepancy” in the specific zone that would be patrolled. “The devil’s in the details,” he said.

Separately, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters in Sochi that about 500 suspected Islamic State and jihadists militants have fled captivity from northeastern Syria since the start of fighting. Syrian Kurdish forces had been detaining thousands of Islamic State group fighters in camps in the area.

⦁ This story is based in part on wire reports.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide