US Vice President Mike Pence’s announcement in Ankara on Thursday, Oct. 17 that Turkey had agreed to a 120-hour ceasefire surprised only those who credited the consistent misreporting on the “successes” of the week-long Turkish operation against the Kurds of northern Syria. In straight talks with Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Erdogan realized that a truce was his best bet for avoiding a debacle. With them were US national security adviser Robert O’Brien and special Syrian envoy James Jeffrey. Pence announced that the ceasefire was to allow Kurdish forces to retreat from a designated safe zone (agreed between President Donald Trump and Erdogan on Oct. 6) and make way for negotiations towards a permanent end to the conflict. US forces are to facilitate the Kurds’ retreat.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Pence handed Erdogan a lifeline. By last Sunday, Oct. 13, his operation was flagging, thwarted by the arrival of Syrian government forces in the Kurdish areas, with Russia military support, while Turkish troops were still poised for attack. This followed a snap deal between the Kurds and Damascus. That deal and the close coordination between Presidents Trump and Vladimir Putin, revealed exclusively by DEBKAfile throughout, left the Turkish president little choice bit to dance again to the tune of Trump administration policy. Otherwise, he and the Turkish army would find themselves up against a broad front of Russia, the Syrian army and the Kurds. Erdogan therefore folded and acceded to Trump’s demand for a provisional truce.
Three inferences may be drawn from Pence’s disclosure that the US would facilitate the Kurds’ retreat:
- The US forces scheduled to withdraw from Kurdish regions are still present.
- They would have to coordinate their steps with the Russian and Syrian military forces which moved into those regions this week.
- Washington is in no position to tell the Kurds what to do after pushing them into the arms of Moscow and Damascus.
It therefore remains to be seen how Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to Washington’s truce initiative with Turkey and how US military steps in northern Syria fit in with those of the Russian forces. Pending answers to those questions, Kurdish leaders will not move out of their positions.