Alwaght- Despite the temporary ceasefire in Syria’s northeast, the routes leading to this part of the country, mainly from Manbij to Qamishli, Tell Abyad, and Ras Al-Ain, are scenes to the movement of various military vehicles carrying the outgoing American forces and tanks and the incoming Turkish troops forcing their way into the Kurdish-controlled regions with the attacks that the Kurds argue are aimed at changing the region demographically.
A large number of displaced Kurdish civilians have been carrying their luggage and seeking shelter from the Turkish relentless attacks. Somewhere in the same region, the Syrian army forces are moving to expand their umbrella of protection to the Kurds following an agreement with the Kurdish leaders abandoned in Turkey’s mercy by their ally Washington.
This messy situation in the northeast was created after the US President Donald Trump abruptly removed his troops from the Kurdish regions under an unstated agreement with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan green-lighting an offensive by the Turkish army.
A week after the attacks, Trump sent the Vice-president Mike Pence and a number of other diplomats, including the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, and special envoy to Syria crisis James Jeffrey to Syria in an indication of a confusion and incohesion-hit policy, all to talk to Turkey for a truce.
This raises many questions, among them why Trump has changed his mind after allowing Erdogan to go ahead. Is this a moral stance driven by the Turkish atrocities in the Kurdish towns? Is it the US interests? Or is his position at stake?
Home pressure on Trump
Trump, who pulled out his Syria forces as a materialization of his election promises, was optimistic that the withdrawal will enkindle new conflicts and make new troubles to Syria and its ally Russia. The pace of the developments was superfast and just in the first week, as the Paris-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said, 71 civilians were killed and 300,000 were displaced. Some 360 fighters were also killed. Furthermore, the SOHR’s chief Abdul Rahman Rami warned that if the Turkish-backed forces captured Kobani, they will commit genocide.
The Congress lawmakers on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to block Trump’s move to take out of Syria the American forces which emboldened Erdogan to order the incursion to attack the Kurdish-controlled regions. 354 congressmen signed the resolution. The move marked a danger to Trump’s position in the 2020 presidential race because in addition to the 235 Democrats that represent the majority at least 100 Republicans advocated the condemnation.
Democratic lawmaker Eliot Lance Angel, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the pullout move was a betrayal of the allies. Mitch McConnell, the leader of Congress Republicans, said that withdrawing troops from Syria is a “grave mistake” and does not serve the American interests in the region. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, described the current situation in Syria’s northeast a “disaster in the making”, adding Trump’s decision signaled that the US is an unreliable ally.
Congress is powerful and this president’s measure has turned the situation against him, distancing him from his once-held upper hand against the Congress. He later tried to reverse the situation. The first step was announcing sanctions against Turkey. He imposed a 50 percent tax on Turkish steel exports to the US. The next step was sanctioning two ministries and their ministers. He struggled to calm the angry voices against him at home and among the Syrian Kurdish leaders. But the collective impression was that his moves were not more than a cheap show.
The United Nations and its Security Council since the beginning openly voiced their opposition to the Turkish campaign. The UNSC held an emergency session on Wednesday at the suggestion of France, Britain, Belgium, Poland, and Germany. Its statement said it was “deeply “concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in northeastern Syria and the escape of ISIS members from the Kurdish YPG detention camps. Kelly Craft at the session called for a stop to Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring and announcement of a ceasefire. The opposition to the Turkish operation at the UN was vital to Trump. Otherwise, in addition to the damage to American credibility, Trump would have been accused of hypocrisy.
Additionally, the regional circumstances have moved in a way that the Israeli regime, the closest US ally in the region, has been growing worried. The key US ally in West Asia has grown concerned about its future security which has so far been entrusted with the US. Pompeo flew to occupied Palestinian territories from Turkey where he assured the Israelis they still have the US backing.
Russia is leaving the US behind in terms of controlling the Turkish offensive case. Before Pence's visit to Ankara, Erdogan had turned down a US ceasefire suggestion. Simultaneously, the media reported about an imminent Erdogan trip to Moscow for talks with his counterpart Vladimir Putin. This carries the brazen message of Putin’s credibility over Trump for the warring sides.
Syrian forces entered Raqqa after five years. They also were deployed to Kurdish-majority Hasakah, where they were received by the locals warmly. In other regions like Manbij, also Kurdish-controlled, the Syrian Arab Army’s troops were dispatched. Many places where there was an American flag signing support for the Kurds, now are hosting the Russian flag. This is not what Trump sought. His prediction was a confrontation of the joint Russian-Syrian forces with the invading Turkish forces. But smart handling of the situation by Moscow and Damascus not only averted an encounter but also led to retaking new territories without any clashes.
ISIS resurgence risks
Although the Turkish president before the operation promised as a privilege to the Americans he will handle the case of ISIS prisoners in Syria, things did not move in accordance with this common Washington-Ankara will. On the one hand, Erdogan betrayed the US. The Syrian president’s advisor Bouthaina Shaaban said that Al-Nusra and ISIS, both terrorist organizations, are assisting the Turkish operation. She continued that a large number of the fighters fighting along with the Turkish troops are members of these terrorist organizations.
On the other hand, Turkey neither wants nor can take over the ISIS terrorists so far have been in Kurdish captivity. This state of uncertainty, while the Kurds are under the Turkish fire, allows the escape of scores of ISIS members from jails every day. France’s RTL news channel on Tuesday reported that 10 French women and 25 children as families of ISIS militants broke out of a detention camp.
Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in a TV interview on Wednesday night said that his forces halted all of their pursuing operations against ISIS. “From now on, our forces will only take defensive actions,” he was quoted as saying. The ISIS prisoner escape will be of harm to the US interests in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. That is because they broke out of detention sporadically which means it is hard to chase them. Moreover, any attacks carried out by re-organized ISIS prospectively will be blamed as a fallout of the Trump withdrawal move.