Trump makes way for Turkey operation against Kurds in Syria

The US says it is stepping aside for an imminent Turkish operation against Kurdish-led forces within Syria that have until now been a key US ally, reports BBC. Kurdish militias played a major role in defeating the Islamic State (IS) group, but Turkey regards them as terrorists. The US - which has hundreds of troops near the Turkey-Syria border - has reportedly begun to withdraw them.

The main Kurdish-led force has condemned the pullout and accused the US of abandoning its fighters. In January, President Trump threatened to "devastate Turkey economically" if it attacked Kurdish forces. However, a White House statement issued on Sunday makes no reference to the Kurdish fighters of the YPG.

The statement followed a phone call between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. What did the White House say? "Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into northern Syria," the statement said. "The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial 'Caliphate', will no longer be in the immediate area."

The White House also said that Turkey would take over all responsibility for IS fighters captured by Kurdish forces over the past two years.
Tens of thousands of former IS fighters, their wives and children are held in Kurdish-run camps in Syria. "The United States government has pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back but they did not want them and refused.

"The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer." This represents a significant shift in US policy - President Trump acting against the advice of many in the Pentagon and state department. It risks a recasting of alliances in Syria. The Kurds may be forced to seek an accommodation with the Assad government. The potential chaos could facilitate a resurgence of IS. Indeed the US withdrawal of its forces from the border area may herald the full withdrawal of troops from Syria that Mr Trump has long wanted.

It marks a betrayal of Washington's Kurdish allies, a betrayal that many other countries in the region will note with alarm. Both the Saudis and the Israelis are increasingly realising that Mr Trump's robust rhetoric is rarely matched by actions. Last month the Syria Study Group, a bipartisan body commissioned by Congress, stated in its final report that the US still has significant security interests in Syria and retains some policy levers with which to influence events there. But that is clearly not Present Trump's view.

What is Turkey's plan?
Late on Sunday, Mr Erdogan's office said that he and President Trump had spoken on the phone about Turkey's plan to set up a "safe zone" in north-eastern Syria. It said the move was needed to combat "terrorists" and create "the conditions necessary for the return of Syrian refugees to their native country".

Turkey hosts more than 3.6 million Syrians who fled the civil war that began in 2011. It wants to move up to two million of the refugees from its territory into the zone. In his call with Mr Trump, President Erdogan also expressed his "frustration over the US military and security bureaucracy's failure" to implement an agreement reached in August about the zone, his office said.

On Saturday, he warned that Turkish forces could launch a cross-border offensive in the coming days. He has not given any details about the scale of the planned offensive. How have the Kurds reacted? On Monday the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - who occupy former IS territory in the north-east of Syria - said US forces had begun to withdraw from border areas, accusing them of US failing to "fulfil their responsibilities".

An SDF spokesman said the group was "determined to defend NE Syria at all costs". In a separate tweet, the group called the planned Turkish operation a "mechanism of death" that could turn the area into a some of "permanent war".