Oct. 7 (UPI) — The White House said it will be removing U.S troops from northern Syria ahead of a Turkey military advance to expel Kurdish forces from the region.
In a statement released late Sunday following a phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the White House said it would neither support nor interfere with the mission.
“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” the White House statement read. “The United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”
Erdogan said Saturday his country’s military was ready to mount the attack.
The Trump administration’s tacit approval of Turkey’s military incursion represents an about-face on U.S. policy. In August, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Turkey against conducting such an action, stating there would be “potentially devastating consequences.”
Turkey, an important NATO ally, has been threatening to attack Kurdish-led U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as it is led by the YPG militia, or People’s Protection Units, the Syrian version of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which it considers a terrorist organization.
The SDF, who is also a close partner to the United States in the fight against IS in Syria, was integral to recapturing the terrorist organization’s final so-called caliphate in the war-torn country in March.
In late August, the United States and Turkey signed an agreement to install a security mechanism along the Turkey-Syria border to prevent IS from resurging in the area.
A main part of the agreement consisted of the SDF removal of its military fortifications and the withdrawal of its combat troops from near the border to address Turkey’s security concerns.
SDF said following the U.S. announcement Sunday that Erdogan has now transformed the agreement into “a mechanism of death” and “the stable & secure region into a zone of conflict and permanent war.”
The Kurdish militant group said by complying with the agreement to remove its troops and fortifications from the border, it created a “security vacuum” but it did so on the confidence it had in the United States.
SDF said the threat of war will reverse the defeat of IS as its leaders in hiding will re-emerge and break its fighters out from prisons and camps housing tens of thousands of IS family members, threatening local and international security.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said Monday on Twitter that the Kurdish people are owned an explanation for why the SDF dismantled its fortifications when the United States failed to fulfill its commitments.
“US forces on the ground showed us that this is not how they value friendship & alliance,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said. “However, the decision by the [president of the United States] is about to ruin the trust and cooperation between the SDF and US built during the fight against ISIS. Alliances are built on mutual trust.”
In an interview with Voice of America, Bali said the SDF is taking the threat of attack “extremely” seriously.
“We fear that mass killings would be committed against our people if Turkish forces invaded this part of Syria,” he said.
The United States also said Sunday that Turkey would be taking responsibility for the potentially thousands of foreign-born IS fighters from SDF custody.
The announcement came six days after the U.S. Defence Department released its fiscal year 2020 joint strategic oversight plan, in which it said it “supports the leadership of the Syrian Democratic Forces.”