Turkey Declares Victory in Syria, Claims Kurds Have Left ‘Safe Zone’ as Ceasefire Ends

President of Turkey and leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he delivers a speech during his party's parliamentary group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM) in Ankara, on October 30, 2019. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP) (Photo by …
ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images

Tuesday brought the end of the ceasefire that halted Turkey’s invasion of Syria to drive Kurdish military forces away from the border.

Despite some ominous rumblings from other Turkish officials, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pronounced the Kurdish withdrawal satisfactory and declared victory.

“Turkey has shown what it can do with its own means and without getting permission, when it comes to national security and historical responsibilities,” Erodgan said on Tuesday.

Erdogan’s speech asserted Turkey has “rights” in the “lands and seas” from which security threats emanate. He described his “Operation Peace Spring” as a successful effort to push the “terrorists” of the Kurdish YPG militia back until they could no longer support the PKK, the Kurdish separatist organization.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry cited assurances from Russia that YPG units have been cleared from the border region, including the key cities of Manbij and Tal Rifat, and all heavy weapons have been removed. 

“Turkey will never allow the formation of a terror corridor in the south of its borders, and our fight against the terrorist organizations, particularly Daesh and PKK/YPG, will continue with determination,” the ministry said. “Daesh” is another name for the Islamic State.

The statement said that “Turkish and Russian military delegations discussed tactical and technical aspects” of beginning joint patrols of the Turkish-Syrian border – a curiously protracted series of discussions given the seemingly simple objective of ensuring there are no YPG military forces deployed in a fairly narrow stretch of land.

The Turks vaguely indicated the latest round of discussions with the Russian military were “positive and constructive” and said, “the coordination will continue.” Russian military police have begun patrolling in the safe zone, but there is no firm indication of when Turkish troops will join them.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday that discussions are underway with Russia and Iran to arrange the return of some two million refugees currently living in Turkey to “territories liberated from terrorists.”

“We aim at returning refugees, and this return should be safe, it should be carried out in accordance with international law, as well as in coordination with U.N. agencies,” Cavusoglu said.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) on Tuesday castigated Turkey and its Syrian allies for “looting and theft” in the region Turkey invaded and repeated its charges that Turkish forces continue to violate the ceasefire agreement.

The SDF characterized the Syrian fighters allied with Turkey as “terrorist factions” and “mercenaries” and claimed their attacks on SDF positions were “repelled.”

The Kurdish news service Rudaw reported on Tuesday that a Russian military police patrol near Darbasiya was nearly hit by suspected Turkish artillery fire. 

The Russians said reports of the near-miss have “nothing to do with reality” and there were “no casualties among the Russian personnel.” According to a Russian spokesman, the explosion Rudaw reported was caused by “an unidentified caseless explosive device” detonating near an armored vehicle.

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