The Syrian government has prepared its forces for a clash with Turkey in North Syria. After striking a deal with the Kurd-led rebel group, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are already under attack from Turkey, have agreed to bury the hatchet to protect their border from incursion. Turkey has pushed south with President Erdogan declaring his intention to create a 30km ‘safe-zone’ in North Syria, ostensibly to begin rehousing some 2 million of Turkey’s 3.6 million refugees from the Syrian civil war. As of Sunday 13th October, the Turkish government declared that they have captured 109 square kilometres of land (42 square miles), displacing more than 150,000 people in the process.
The escalation of the conflict is a result of a White House statement, declaring that the United States were withdrawing their troops from northern Syria, a result of a President Trump phone call with Erdogan on the 6th October. Reportedly, Mr Trump did not consult advisors or foreign allies with his decision. The US government has denied that they had abandoned the Kurds, while the world watched Turkey advance over the border and attack the SDF defended towns and villages.
The Turkish offensive has been met with worldwide condemnation, but so has the American role in the offensive. The role of President Trump pulling troops out of the SDFs territory, their former ally, has drawn criticism from both sides of the American political spectrum, with a rare bipartisan bill in congress which seeks to sanction Turkey for its attack. In further developments since the start of the invasion, the US secretary of defence, Mark Esper, acknowledged on Sunday 13th October that the Turks plan to advance further than their original targets, throwing Trump’s judgement into question.
Regardless of whether President Trump believes a withdrawal of troops in Syria will save American lives, the reality is the reduction could lead to a resurgent Islamic State. The SDF has declared that the priority is no longer defending the prisons of thousands of Islamic State fighters, captured over the course of the conflict. Instead, it is directed towards meeting the Turkish troops in battle. Not only could the release of fighters pose a problem, the further radicalisation of elements of the rebel forces at the apparent abandonment of the west could push more fighters into the arms of Islamic state. In terms of policy failure, it could be argued that the departure means the United States has finally detached itself from trying to find any resolution to the conflict. Russia has replaced the United States in its role and the withdrawal could see the Assad government, a Russian ally, victorious in the so-far eight-year conflict, causing a huge blow for Washington’s aims in the Middle East which have been carefully managed until now.
For now, the Kurds are on their own, forced to come to an agreement with their sworn enemies to defend a state they have been fighting against since 2011.