Kurds announce deal with Assad's government as Turkey invades Syria's northeast

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Late on Sunday, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced it had entered into an agreement with the government of Syria after Turkey began a military offensive into north-eastern Syria on Wednesday. According to Syrian state media, government forces began deploying into previously SDF controlled territory yesterday. Also on Sunday, the United States announced a complete withdrawal from the region, beyond the withdrawal from the "immediate area" first announced seven days earlier on October 6.

In a statement, the SDF said, "An agreement has been reached with the Syrian government — whose duty it is to protect the country's borders and preserve Syrian sovereignty — for the Syrian Army to enter and deploy along the Syrian-Turkish border to help the [SDF] stop [the Turkish] aggression".

The Syrian Army — whose commander-in-chief is President Bashar al-Assad — entered Tell Tamer and Ain Issa yesterday according to state media. The SDF said hundreds of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) fighters escaped following Turkish airstrikes from a camp at Ain Issa.

On October 6, US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke on the phone. Then both nations issued statements speaking of an imminent incursion into northeast Syria, and the US statement spoke of Turkey assuming the duty of guarding captured ISIS militants.

On Wednesday, Turkey began a military offensive with airstrikes followed by a ground invasion. Erdoğan said the invasion was "to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area." He named it "Operation Peace Spring" and named both the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and People's Protection Units (YPG) as terrorists. PKK is a banned militant organization in Turkey; YPG is the main fighting force of the SDF, largely Kurdish and, according to Turkey, supportive of the PKK.

The operation was condemned by members of the European Union. Erdoğan cited Article 5 of the NATO treaty and said, "They need to stand by us", while addressing the press yesterday. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg wrote, "I count on Turkey to act with restraint & ensure that the gains we have made in the fight against ISIS are not jeopardised."