Turkey has agreed to temporarily halt its military operation against Syria’s Kurdish-led militias, allowing them to withdraw from the country’s border, US Vice President Mike Pence said during a visit to Ankara.
“Today the United States and Turkey have agreed to a ceasefire in Syria,” Pence said during a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The ceasefire between the Turkish military backed by affiliated militants and the Kurdish-led fighters is set to last 120 hours, according to Pence. This time will be spent on the withdrawal of the Kurdish forces from the 20-mile strip along the Syrian border, where Turkey wants to set up a “safe zone.”
The agreed stoppage of hostilities has been described as a “temporary” one. When a “permanent” one comes in place, US President Trump will cancel the executive sanctions against Ankara, the VP explained.
The process of the Kurdish militias’ withdrawal will be “facilitated” by the US, Pence stated without elaborating.
According to Pence, Ankara promised that the military operation, dubbed ‘Peace Spring’, will be stopped entirely when the Kurdish-led militias complete their withdrawal, adding that Washington supports the Turkish idea of creating a “long-term” buffer zone within Syria’s territory.
The US delegation was not shy in lauding the “achievement,” praising US President Donald Trump, his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as the “strong relationship between our two leaders.” Trump himself also hailed the ceasefire, saying that it required a “tough love” to get the deal done.
How exactly the “ceasefire” will be implemented remains unclear, as the US and Turkish sides managed to produce conflicting accounts of the meeting. While Pence insisted Ankara promised to not attack the Syrian border town of Kobani, Turkey’s FM said no such commitments were made.
Apart from that, the town – as well as several other locations close to the country’s border – was already entered by Syria’s Army, according to state media. Last weekend, Damascus seemingly reached a deal with the Kurds and vowed to protect its soil from “Turkish aggression.” Therefore, it remains unclear whether Ankara will actually press forward with occupying all of its envisioned “safe zone.” Turkey, for its part, ambiguously maintains that withdrawal of the Kurdish militias behind the 32km mark would suffice.
The Turkish operation kicked off last Wednesday, targeting the northeastern parts of Syria controlled by the Kurdish-led militias – namely the so-called Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) group. While the SDF used to be the key US ally in its fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), Ankara regards the group as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington, has been waging a low-intensity insurgence in Turkey’s southeast for decades.The operation – repeatedly mulled for months – began just two days after Trump announced his decision to pull American troops from Syria’s northeast. The move caused an uproar in Washington and was branded a betrayal of the Kurds. As the ‘Peace Spring’ gained momentum, further US servicemen were pulled out of the combat zone.
Ankara’s offensive drew widespread international condemnation and already resulted in a number of countries suspending arms exports to Turkey. Facing mounting criticism, the US president himself insisted that he had not endorsed the operation by any means, and repeatedly threatened Turkey with “devastating” sanctions, as well as executively implementing a set of restrictions against it.
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