The United States began pulling troops back from the northeast Syrian border on Monday, opening the way for a Turkish strike on Kurdish-led forces long allied with Washington, in a move US President Donald Trump hailed as a bid to quit “endless wars,” Reuters reported.
The major policy shift, which hands Turkey responsibility for thousands of jihadist prisoners, was denounced as a “stab in the back” by the Kurdish-led forces who have been Washington’s most capable partner in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria.
The forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), accused Washington of reneging on an ally, warning it would have a “great negative” impact on the war against the militants.
But Trump said in several tweets it was too costly to keep supporting Kurdish-led forces fighting ISIL, adding that “it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars”.
“Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out,” he said.
In a sign of deepening humanitarian concern, a UN official reacted to the move by saying civilians must be spared in any Turkish operation in the northeast, adding the United Nations hoped that displacement and atrocities can be prevented.
The pullback will initially be limited in scope to a patch of territory near the Turkish border where both countries had been working to establish a special security area, a US official told Reuters on Monday.
In a statement after Trump spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday, the White House also stressed that US troops would not support the operation. “United States forces, having defeated the [ISIL] territorial “Caliphate,” will no longer be in the immediate area,” it said.
Turkey has long argued for the establishment of a 20-mile (32 kilometer) “safe zone” along the border under Turkish control, driving back the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which is the dominant force in the SDF alliance and which Ankara considers a terrorist organization and a threat to its national security.
The United States helped the YPG defeat ISIL militants in Syria and had been seeking a joint “security mechanism” with Turkey along the border to meet Turkey’s security needs without threatening the SDF.
The SDF accused Washington of betraying its ally.
“The American forces did not fulfil their commitments and withdrew their forces from the border areas with Turkey, and Turkey is now preparing for an invasion operation of northern and eastern Syria,” it said in a statement.