US troops ‘leave’ Kobani as Turkish incursion advances and Kurds make deal with Damascus
American troops have reportedly withdrawn from their observation post in the town of Kobani in northern Syria as Turkish army advances deeper south and Damascus says it sent the Army to the area.
The pullout began after 3 pm local time, Turkey’s Anadolu new agency reported citing security sources. There have been no confirmation from Pentagon. The American observation post in Kobani, the strategic town also known as Ayn Al-Arab, came under Turkish artillery fire on Saturday. No one was hurt and it’s unclear if the attack was deliberate.
A small number of US troops have also reportedly left their station in the town of Ain Issa, a Kurdish administration center located an hour’s drive south from Kobani. This happened as Turkish-backed militias were advancing on the city. The troops were relocated to other bases in Syria, according to Washington Post. Earlier reports claimed that US troops in Ain Issa were left isolated after Turkish-backed forces took control of the M4 highway, a key supply route in northern Syria that runs through the city.
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said on Sunday that the US is planning to evacuate about 1,000 troops from northern Syria. “We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies, and it’s a very untenable situation,” he told CBS. “There is no way they could stop 15,000 Turks from proceeding south.”
The Turkish Defense Ministry said Sunday that its troops have pushed 30-35km into the Kurdish-held territory, several kilometers beyond its proposed 30-km ‘safe zone.’
Meanwhile the Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria said it has reached an agreement with Damascus for the Syrian government troops to be deployed along the border with Turkey. The Syrian Army entered the city of Manbij in the northern province of Aleppo late on Sunday, Lebanese broadcaster Al Mayadeen reported. They are said to be planning to reach Kobani, some 60 kilometers away, within 48 hours. RT’s sources in the region have confirmed the report.
With the Syrian Army on the move, the pressure is mounting on Turkey, believes Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.
“The Syrian government is going to try to go across and get the oilfields, the gas fields that are so crucial for Syria’s economic well-being,” he said, adding that they also want to take control over prime agricultural land and the Tabqa Dam that the Americans and the Kurds have held. Landis fears that without enough diplomatic efforts, an all-out war could break out between Turkey and Syria.
The Turkish military has entered northern Syria as part of the so-called “Operation Peace Spring,” with Ankara saying it would establish a buffer zone for the return of Syrian refugees. However, it is also aimed against the Kurdish militia that Turkey considers terrorist, and had led to an exodus of Kurdish civilians from the area.
Ankara’s move has been condemned internationally, and several Western countries have halted their military supplies to Turkey in retaliation. US President Donald Trump, who has come under heavy criticism for pulling out American troops and thus “betraying Kurdish allies,” on Sunday threatened to impose “powerful sanctions on Turkey.” Those could personally target Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, Trump is unlikely to change his mind about the pullout, which he says was needed to end the “endless war.”
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