Donald Trump dispatched his vice-president Mike Pence to Turkey to rescue a ceasefire from Turkish President Recep Tayyip, who on Wednesday urged Kurdish forces to lay down their arms and withdraw from northern Syria. A week to the day after its outbreak, the Turkish offensive against the Kurdish militia of the People's Protection Units (YPG) has already rebuffed the cards in northern Syria, the new epicenter of the conflict that has torn the country since 2011.
With the help of an agreement with the Kurdish forces, the Damascus regime has indeed returned to regions that have been elusive for years and Moscow has begun to fill the void left by the withdrawal of US forces. Criticized in Washington for seeming to give the green light to the Turkish operation, the US president has since urged Ankara to stop its offensive and authorized sanctions against Turkey.
In this context, he decided to send his Vice President Mike Pence and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Turkey with the mission of securing a ceasefire. Erdogan is due to receive them on Thursday. “Our mission is to see if we can get a ceasefire, see if we can negotiate,” Pompeo told reporters before boarding his plane.
Trump's vitriol letter
According to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, other US sanctions are in preparation in case of no agreement. The American billionaire has nevertheless blurred the signals by stating Wednesday, before the departure of MM. Pence and Pompeo, that “if Turkey goes to Syria, it is a matter between Turkey and Syria, it is not our problem”. “The Kurds are not angels,” he added. Also in a missive dated October 9 and issued Wednesday evening, the US President tried to persuade his Turkish counterpart to reconsider his decision, urging him to “not play the hard” and “do not fool” .
As for a truce, Mr. Erdogan has already ruled out “sitting at the table of terrorists”, an expression for the YPG, and argued that for the offensive to end, the forces would have to Kurds disarm and retreat. “Right now, tonight, all the terrorists are laying down their weapons and equipment, destroying all their fortifications and withdrawing from the security zone we have set,” he said.
The stated objective of the Turkish operation is the creation of a “security zone” 32 km deep along its border, which would separate it from YPG areas and repatriate some of the 3.6 millions of Syrian refugees settled in Turkey.
Battle of Ras al-Ain
Ankara views the YPG as a “terrorist organization” for its links with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which delivers bloody guerrilla warfare in Turkey. But Western countries support the YPG militia, which dominates an Arab-Kurdish coalition called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), for its leading role in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist organization.
A week after the start of the operation, fighting continues to rage, especially in Ras al-Ain, a town on the Turkish border where Kurdish fighters are trying to repel the onslaught of Ankara forces. An AFP reporter near Ras al-Ain saw columns of smoke rising from the city as the overwhelming thunder of Turkish artillery filled the air. In order to blind the planes of Ankara, the Kurdish fighters burned tires.
An SDF official said the Kurdish fighters were “ready to fight to the end” in Ras al-Ain. “We have not yet made the attack (…) The real battle has not started yet,” he warned. Accusing Mr. Trump, whose decision to withdraw US troops left the field open for the Turkish assault, to have betrayed them, Kurdish forces called for the rescue Damascus, which deployed troops to Minbej and Ras al -Ain, among others.
Kurdish fighters, backed by Syrian forces, entered a base recently cleared by the Americans, ahead of Ankara-backed rebels who wanted to seize it, according to an NGO, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights ( OSDH).
Taking advantage of the withdrawal of the Americans, and in order to avoid a major confrontation between the forces of Damascus and the Turkish military backed by their Syrian counterparts, the Russian military police conducts patrols in the sector of Minbej, according to Moscow. Erdogan, who denounced on Tuesday the “dirty market” concluded between the Kurdish forces and the regime of Bashar al-Assad, said on Wednesday that it does not matter to him “who of the Russians or the regime” “pull out the YPG of Minbej” .
The Kremlin announced on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited Erdogan to Russia. The meeting between the two men will take place on October 22 in the seaside resort of Sochi, said Wednesday the presidency in a statement.
In seven days, 71 civilians, 158 FDS combatants and 128 protesters have been killed, according to the OSDH. Ankara lamented the deaths of six soldiers in Syria as well as 20 civilians by firing rockets of Kurdish fighters on Turkish cities. In addition, the offensive caused the exodus of 160,000 people in northern Syria, according to the UN. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council on Wednesday worried “the risk of dispersion” of jihadists held prisoners in northeastern Syria, without calling for the end of the Turkish military offensive against the Kurds.
Speaking separately to the press, US ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, also stressed the jihadist danger: “Turkey's military offensive in northeastern Syria undermines the campaign to defeat the Islamic State group, endangers innocent civilians and threatens peace, security and stability in the region “. In Brussels, two Belgian deputies told AFP that two Belgian jihadists who were imprisoned in northeastern Syria had escaped “in recent days”.