US president, Donald Trump, has offered to mediate between Turkey and the Kurdish militias within Syria, launching a diplomatic campaign to broker a ceasefire between the two sides.
The offer came as Trump spoke on the phone to both Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the head of the Kurdish-led militia of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) today, in which he called for the Turkish military operation into north-east Syria to halt and begin the negotiation process.
Mike Pence, the US vice president, told reporters that “President Trump communicated to [Erdoğan] very clearly that the US wants Turkey to stop the invasion, implement an immediate ceasefire, and begin to negotiate with Kurdish forces in Syria.” Pence added that he would head a US diplomatic delegation to Turkey in order to try and strike an agreement.
Trump’s desire to mediate between the two sides is in direct contrast to his previous stance on Turkey’s military operation into north-east Syria, which he originally gave Turkey its blessing to proceed with, earlier this month. Shortly after, however, Trump seemed to have a change of heart and warned Turkey to limit its military operation, with the US attempting to cut off Turkey’s access to the airspace over north-east Syria, in order to cripple its operational effectiveness.
Yesterday, Trump again reverted to his stance that the conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish militias should be left to themselves, and that the US should not be involved. He tweeted “after defeating 100 per cent of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria. Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land. I said to my generals, why should we be fighting for Syria and Assad to protect the land of our enemy?” He added that despite the US troops withdrawing from the area, he would welcome any other player who wants to protect the Kurdish militias, stating that “anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”
After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria. Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land. I said to my Generals, why should we be fighting for Syria….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2019
Turkey is now on its seventh day into its military incursion into north-east Syria, named Operation Peace Spring, and is the third and largest of two previous operations – Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016 and Operation Olive Branch in 2018. The aims of the current operation is to push the Kurdish militias such as the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – which Turkey perceives as a national security threat on its border region – further back from the Syrian-Turkish border and to establish the planned safe zone east of the Euphrates River, that could allegedly house over two million refugees.
Since Turkey’s announcement of the launching of the operation, there have been numerous countries and players both supporting and opposing the move, with many Syrian opposition groups such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Syrian Turkmen forces pledging their support and participation. Spain also announced its support for the operation, making it the first European and Western nation to do so, while the rest of the continent and the US have expressed opposition to it.
There is widespread fear among many in the international community that the operation will result in Turkey’s occupation of Syrian territory, but Turkey denies the claim and presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, insisted last week that “Turkey has no interest in occupying any part of Syria. We haven’t done so in Jarablus when we fought against Daesh and eliminated 3,000 terrorists there… or when we entered Afrin, we have not occupied any part of Syria, we have returned those places to the local owners and residents, we have no intention of occupying any parts of Syria in the east of the Euphrates either, and also we have no interest in changing the demographics there.”
Another fear is that the operation is a method of persecuting the Kurdish people, who are stateless and are scattered around various countries in the Levant. Kalin also countered that claim, stating that “this is not a move against the Kurds. Turkey doesn’t have any problem with the Kurds. We are fighting against a terrorist organisation that has killed and oppressed the Kurdish people as well.”