Turkey “is continuing its genocide war” in northern Syria despite an allegedly “permanent” ceasefire, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-allied coalition largely made up of Kurdish fighters, alleged on Thursday.
Turkey invaded Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) in early October as part of “Operation Peace Spring,” a plan to eradicate the indigenous Kurdish presence of that territory to create a “safe zone” for mostly Arab Syrian refugees stranded in Turkey. The SDF and associated Kurdish administrators have condemned the plan as a form of ethnic cleansing, as the end goal would be a dramatic demographic change for the region.
After hours of discussion this week, Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged from a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin with the announcement of an agreement: the Russians would secure Kurdish areas and Turkey agreed to end the invasion if the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) left those areas.
Turkey considers the YPG indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist organization active in southern Turkey. YPG fighters comprise a large percentage of the SDF and did much of the work in annihilating the Islamic State “caliphate” in Syria. The SDF expelled ISIS from Raqqa, its “capital,” in 2018 with U.S. air support.
Turkey has for years stood accused of harboring ISIS terrorists and giving them easy access to the Syrian war theater.
“Operation Peace Spring” is a joint operation with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a coalition of mostly Arab fighters created to wage war against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad with significant help from former President Barack Obama. Reports indicate many FSA militants came from the Syrian wing of al-Qaeda, the former Nusra Front (currently Jabhat Fatah al-Sham) and Kurdish fighters have published videos showing jihadists desecrating the corpses of fallen Kurdish fighters.
SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel issued a statement Thursday accusing Turkey of failing to abide by the “permanent ceasefire.”
“Despite the commitment of our forces to the cease-fire agreement and their withdrawal from all the cease-fire region, Turkish government with its allied terrorist factions are still violating the cease-fire agreement and still continuing its genocide war against our people and our lands,” Gabriel said. “The terrorist factions with Turkish supporting and backing have waged early this morning a vast ground attack on Almanajir, Alasadyah, and Almusherfah villages which are outside the ceasefire region.”
Gabriel added that the SDF will exercise its “legitimate right to self-defense” and urges America “to intervene immediately.”
“Operation Peace Spring” began immediately after President Donald Trump announced he would withdraw troops from Rojava. The president has congressional authorization only to use military force against al-Qaeda and affiliated groups, as per a 2001 Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). As ISIS is not present in Rojava, Trump had no legal authority to keep troops there.
With the FSA’s return, Trump could potentially argue that troops can legally fight against the Turkish forces if proof definitively proves those fighting with Turkish forces are members of an al-Qaeda offshoot.
The SDF counted three dead – including a female fighter whose “body was kidnapped by the mercenaries” – and four wounded, but managed to kill “at least 31 mercenaries,” by which they mean members of the FSA. There is no evidence that the Kurds have managed to kill any members of the formal Turkish military at press time.
Erdogan and Putin spent over two hours locked in a room alone brokering an agreement on Wednesday, and a total of six hours together including meetings with staff, according to the Kremlin. The Russian Defense Ministry announced Friday that it was beginning to move 300 soldiers out of Chechnya, a traditional hotbed of Islamic extremism, and into Syria to help expel the SDF from Rojava as part of the deal to create a “safe zone.” The Russian soldiers would, in theory, ensure that Turkey did not attack Kurdish civilians or engage in any ethnic cleansing.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Thursday, however, that while Erdogan has claimed the military invasion is over, there exists no timetable during which Turkey will withdraw its forces from Syria. The FSA, as it is native to Syria, also has nowhere to withdraw.
Russian has been allied for years with Assad and has spent significant money and human capital on keeping him in power. Erdogan and Assad have an acrimonious relationship, repeatedly referring to each other as “terrorists.” Erdogan has said that the Turkish military would only enter Syria “to end the rule of the tyrant Assad, who terrorizes with state terror,” and “no other reason.”
“The talks were very difficult, and don’t forget the fact that the Turkish side has its own goals,” Kremlin spokesman said of the Erdogan-Putin meeting this week. Peskov emphasized that Russia is the only military in Syria with permission from Assad and that it was acting in the interests of Damascus.
The SDF has traditionally kept out of Assad’s way and vice versa – the SDF focusing on fighting ISIS and Assad focusing on killing civilians in rebel-held cities. Since the U.S. withdrawal, the SDF has reached out to Damascus to protect from Turkey, however, as it serves the interests of neither side to have a Turkish invasion into the country.