Turkey Invades Northern Syria Following U.S. Withdrawal

A five day cease-fire between Turkey and Syria was announced by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday Oct. 17, halting a Turkish invasion into the Kurd-controlled territory in northern Syria. The invasion began on October 9, two days after President Trump announced a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the area, resulting in violence in Northern Syria and political consequences in the U.S.

The U.S.-Kurdish relationship began in 2014 when Kurdish militia group the People’s Protection Units (YPG) joined the U.S. and other armed Syrian groups to combat ISIS. In the five years since, U.S. troops have remained to support the YPG-led Syrian Democratic forces (SDF) and help stabilize the region. The withdrawal of U.S. troops leaves the former allies unprotected from Turkey, which views the YPG as an extension of the militant Kurdish group Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who have fought an ongoing guerilla war in Turkey for decades. Only two days after U.S. withdrawal, Turkey began its invasion. According to The Washington Post, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government want to establish a 30-kilometer “safe zone” in Kurdish-occupied northern Syria, pushing back the Syrian Kurds and relocating millions of Syrian refugees into the zone.

Trump’s decision to withdraw troops was met with bipartisan condemnation by U.S. officials. The House of Representatives met following the announcement and passed a 354-60 resolution condemning the removal of U.S. forces, and calling for White House action to establish sanctions against Turkey and support Kurdish troops displaced by the invasion. Trump defended his actions, saying that Syria has “a problem at a border. It’s not our border. We shouldn’t be losing lives over it.” 

In nine days of fighting The Turkish invasion killed 218 civilians, 224 SDF fighters, and  wounded over 600 people according to The New York Times. Thousands of Kurds have been displaced from territories in Northern Syria and security on YPG-guarded facilities containing incarcerated members of ISIS has loosened.

On October 17, Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Erdoğan in Ankara, Turkey, announcing a cease-fire deal between Turkey and Syria. The deal ends U.S. economic sanctions on Turkey and creates a five day pause, which the Turkish government denies as a “cease fire,” to allow the Kurds to retreat from the disputed area. With the deal, the U.S. recognizes Turkey’s establishment of the 20-mile “safe zone.” Mazloum Abdi, the leader of the Kurdish forces in Syria agreed to the cease-fire but, according to US News and World Report, has implied a different interpretation of the cease-fire than that held by Turkish officials.Trump praised the deal, saying “It’s a great day for the United States. It’s a great day for Turkey.” However, other U.S. officials have seen the cease-fire as an acknowledgement of Turkish support and a betrayal of the previously U.S.-supported Kurds in Syria. Republican Senator Mitt Romney harshly condemned the withdrawal of troops and the U.S. coordinated cease-fire, saying “The decision to abandon the Kurds violates one of our most sacred duties. It strikes at American honor. What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history.” The cease-fire will end Tuesday, Oct. 22, opening the disputed region to further conflict.

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