The Turkish lira has started to slide again...
.. as last week's ceasefire between Turkey, northern Syria and its Kurdish inhabitants - which has just over 24 hours to go - now appears in jeopardy.
On Monday, Turkey gave Kurdish fighters until Tuesday night to leave a narrow strip of territory in northeastern Syria or face becoming targets, setting aside its demand for the militia to withdraw from a much larger “safe zone.”
"We have hours left," Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a forum organized by state-run TRTWorld television in Istanbul on Monday. "If they don’t withdraw, our operation will start. This is our agreement with the U.S."
As Bloomberg notes, citing a senior Turkish military official said, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces must exit the 120-kilometer (75-mile) area between the Syrian border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn by 10 p.m. local time on Tuesday. While Turkey still wants the Kurds to withdraw from a swath of frontier territory more than 440 km long and 32 km deep, it recognizes that won’t happen before the expiry of a 120-hour truce negotiated by the U.S. last week, said the official who also ruled out any extension of the deadline for withdrawal from a 120-kilometer long frontier.
The clarification over the parameters of the truce on Monday followed threats by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to restart the offensive if the militants do not pull back from the area.
Turkey’s immediate goal is to clear the 120-kilometer strip and so far 125 vehicles have left the area and that the effort to implement the deal was closely coordinated with the U.S., the official said, adding that Turkey plans to set up observation points, including combat units, in the area; he also said that control over the 120- kilometer strip would belong to the Turkish Air Force but that it would take time to fully make sure that the area is cleared from the militants.
Separately, Turkish president Erdogan is due to travel to Sochi on Tuesday for talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin that will likely dictate what happens next. With the departure of US forces, Russia has become the sole major influencer in Syria since its military intervened to help win the civil war in favor of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
As Bloomberg notes, Russia has been favoring direct contacts between Turkey and Syria based on a 1998 security accord, though there are no plans for such talks during Erdogan’s visit to Sochi on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tells reporters at news conference with Bulgarian counterpart Ekaterina Zaharieva.
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Meanwhile, as the US withdraws from northern Syria, the WSJ reports that civilians in Kurdish areas hurled rotten fruit and insults at a convoy of U.S. military vehicles that crossed from northern Syria into Iraq early Monday, marking "a dramatic drawdown to an American presence there to combat Islamic State."
Iraqi Kurds in Erbil also protest US forces ordered to withdraw from N. Syria pic.twitter.com/oUGeBZmeE8— Mutlu Civiroglu (@mutludc) October 21, 2019
A Wall Street Journal reporter saw around a dozen armored vehicles on the road near Sheikhan in northern Iraq flying American flags. Stony-faced U.S. soldiers flashed victory signs for the camera. They appeared to be part of a larger convoy that passed through the town of Duhok about 37 miles from the Syrian border earlier Monday. A witness there heard onlookers in the predominantly Kurdish city curse the soldiers. One man called them “sons of bitches” and shouted at them to get out, he said.
The US withdrawal has been seen as a historic betrayal by the Kurds, who partnered with U.S. troops in Syria to fight Islamic State. The U.S. presence had served as a buffer against Turkey, which regards the Kurdish fighters as terrorists.
Fear not though: instead of withdrawing, it now appears that US troops are merely relocating to neighbor Iraq, where the US already has around 5,000 troops in Iraq, many of whom are based in the western province of Anbar.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said late Saturday that all of the roughly 1,000 U.S. troops ordered to leave northeastern Syria would be redeployed to western Iraq and conduct operations against the Islamic State extremist group from there.
American troops are leaving Syria via helicopters, planes and ground convoys, a process that will be completed within weeks, Esper said. He didn’t say where precisely those troops would go.