C’è anche una attivista per i diritti delle donne tra i 9 civili trucidati ieri a sangue freddo dai miliziani filo-turchi nel nord-est della Siria. Secondo quanto riferisce il Guardian, Hevrin Khalaf, 35 anni, segretaria generale del Partito Futuro siriano, e il suo autista, sono stati assassinati a colpi di arma da fuoco su un’autostrada dopo essere stati prelevati dalle loro auto da milizie sostenute dalla Turchia, riferiscono le forze curde. Le uccisioni di tutti e 9 i civili sono state filmate e il video diffuso in rete.
- Turkey will go ahead with its planned offensive against Kurdish militias in northeastern Syria whether or not the U.S. withdraws its troops from the country, its foreign minister said Thursday.
- The warning comes after American officials attempted to condition a U.S. troop pullout on a guarantee of safety for its Kurdish partners and Turkish non-aggression.
- Ankara, which views the U.S.-backed Kurdish militias in Syria as terrorists, has already amassed thousands of Turkish troops along its border with Syria.
Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (L) holds a press conference in Washington, United States on November 20, 2018.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
“If the (withdrawal) is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told local news station NTV, without elaborating on a timeline.
The warning comes after American officials attempted to condition a U.S. troop pullout on a guarantee of safety for its Kurdish partners and Turkish non-aggression — something Turkish President Recep Erdogan promptly smacked down on Tuesday. Now Ankara, which has amassed thousands of Turkish troops along its border with Syria, says it will act regardless of a U.S. delay.
“We are determined on the field and at the table,” Cavusoglu said. “We will decide on its timing and we will not receive permission from anyone.”
White House national security advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have spent the week in the Middle East trying to reassure allies of America’s commitment in the wake of President Donald Trump’s shock announcement to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria. Security officials and lawmakers have warned this would mean abandoning local partners on the ground and undermining U.S. credibility when it comes to alliances.
The White House and State Department did not respond to requests for comment on Cavusoglu’s statements at the time of publication.
Turkey’s government has long threatened to unilaterally attack the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the U.S.-supported militias controlling large swaths of northern Syria that spearheaded the local fight against the Islamic State. Ankara views the YPG as terrorists and a security threat on its southern border, stressing its ties to a separate Kurdish group that’s carried out a decades-long, violent insurgency against the Turkish state.
The two NATO allies continue to lock horns over the issue of the Kurds, which has proved a massive thorn in U.S.-Turkey relations since the Pentagon began arming and training the Kurds to battle IS in Syria in 2015.
Allies in the global anti-IS coalition and in Congress also voiced concern that the campaign against the extremist group was not finished. Trump, defending his decision, stressed that it’s now time for other countries to fill the U.S.’s role, and welcomed Erdogan’s offer to take on the fight against IS — an offer that many critics see as a cover for having free reign to kill YPG members in Syria. Experts also warn that if Turkey attacks the Kurds, they will be forced to abandon the anti-IS fight in order to defend themselves.
For those who have long studied the region, a guarantee of Turkish non-aggression toward the Kurds, as White House officials have suggested, was never going to be feasible.
“The U.S. (or Bolton) attitude is precisely that the YPG should be left alone. This is not a feasible condition, and indeed, its improbability is what makes it attractive to US officials looking to keep the U.S. in Syria,” said Faysal Itani, a Syria expert at the Atlantic Council.
A policy that would ‘invite massacres’
For the Kurds themselves, the crisis may be existential.
“Kurds in Syria that I am constantly in contact with say they want to see action rather than statements because in their view threats from Turkey are very serious,” Mutlu Civiroglu, a Kurdish affairs analyst based in Washington D.C., told CNBC. They point to Turkey’s offensive in the northwestern Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin that began in January of last year and drove hundreds of thousands of Kurds to refugee camps.
“If Trump’s team allows Erdogan to move his forces into northeastern Syria, it would be like inviting the fox to guard the henhouse,” said Nick Heras, a Middle East security fellow at the Center for a New American Security and former research associate at the National Defense University. This, he said, would be “a policy that would invite massacres, not the stabilization of post-IS Syria.”
Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
President Trump’s decision this week to withdraw all American troops from Syria within 30 days risks leaving United States’ allies in the long-running war weakened while strengthening rivals backed by Iran and Russia.
American troops entered Syria in 2015 as part of a coalition fighting the Islamic State, which had seized large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. In the three years since, the extremist group’s self-declared caliphate has crumbled. But the continuing lack of stability in both Syria and Iraq could provide fertile ground for the jihadists to retrench.
The American pullout could also weaken the country’s influence over any negotiations on a settlement to end the conflict.
“The leverage that might have been there for the United States in Syria is no longer there because now everyone knows that the United States will leave Syria unconditionally,” said Joost Hiltermann, the Middle East director of the International Crisis Group, a conflict and foreign policy research organization.
Here are some of the parties to the conflict that have the most to gain or lose from an American withdrawal.
Iran, Russia and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria
President Bashar al-Assad and his chief international backers, Russia and Iran, would all benefit from an American troop withdrawal, which would further tighten Mr. Assad’s once-tenuous grip on his battered country.
Iran is one of the biggest winners as the international ally with the most invested in Syria and the most at stake. During the war, Iran embedded itself in Syria, redrawing the strategic map of the Middle East.
It has sent in thousands of Shiite forces, who fought on the ground, and deployed drones and precision weapons to keep Mr. Assad in power. That secured an all-important land bridge through Syria to supply weapons to Hezbollah, Iran’s Shiite militia ally in Lebanon and a steadfast enemy of Israel.
Iran trained and equipped Shiite fighters while strengthening ties with allies in Iraq and Lebanon in hopes of building a united front in the event of a new war with Israel.
Russia also stands to benefit. A day after Mr. Trump’s announcement on Wednesday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia applauded the decision, saying during a news conference, “Donald’s right, and I agree with him.”
Credit…Alexander Nemenov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Russia contributed around 5,000 troops and a few dozen aircraft to prop up Mr. Assad’s government, which secured Moscow’s strategically important naval facility in the Syrian city of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea. Russia also expanded its military footprint in Syria during the war.
“It certainly helps the Russians, who have benefited tremendously from a quite limited investment in Syria,” said Jon B. Alterman, director and senior fellow of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Through its alliance with Syria, Russia has maintained its influence in the Middle East.
“They re-established themselves as a global player when the conclusion had been that the glory days of the Soviet Union were dead and gone,” Mr. Alterman said.
For Mr. Assad, the American withdrawal means the path forward for Syria will be shaped largely by forces sympathetic to his government and its interests.
The two biggest threats to his leadership have been substantially neutralized — the myriad rebel groups that tried to overthrow the Syrian government and the Islamic State — the latter thanks largely to the military force brought to bear by the American-led international coalition that fought the militants.
Turkey and the United States, NATO allies, have frequently found themselves at odds in Syria, even though both opposed Mr. Assad. That is because the United States backed a mostly Kurdish force in Syria, saying they were the fighters most capable of pushing back the Islamic State.
Turkey has long battled Kurdish separatists at home in the country’s southeast and saw the rising power of Kurds along its border in northern Syria as a threat. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey recently threatened military intervention against the Kurdish forces in Syria that Washington has backed since 2015.
The exit of American troops would leave Turkey open to taking action to curb the power of Kurdish forces in Syria.
Credit…Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
“We have won against ISIS,” Mr. Trump declared in a video that was published on Wednesday. But experts, including some of Mr. Trump’s own staff and coalition partners, disagree.
Though the militants retain just 1 percent of the territory they held at the height of power, this would remove a major military adversary in the region. During a State Department briefing on Dec. 11, Brett McGurk, Mr. Trump’s special envoy in the fight against the Islamic State, said the battle was not over.
“The end of ISIS will be a much more long-term initiative,” Mr. McGurk said. “Nobody is declaring a mission accomplished.”
Despite being America’s key allies in the fight against the Islamic State, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are being virtually abandoned, critics of the withdrawal say. The Kurds have relied on American support, and a sudden withdrawal could be disastrous, leaving them exposed from all sides.
The Syrian Democratic Forces denounced the withdrawal in a statement on Thursday.
“The White House’s decision to withdraw from northern and eastern Syria will negatively affect the campaign against terrorism,” the group said. “The fight against terrorism is not over yet, and the final defeat of terrorism has not come yet.”
The group warned that the move would create a “political-military vacuum” that would allow the Islamic State to thrive again.
Kurdish forces are likely to lose territory and control as a result of Mr. Trump’s decision.
“Kurds and their allies have paid a very heavy price,” said Mutlu Civiroglu, a Washington-based Kurdish affairs analyst. “They have fought on the front line, and thousands of Kurdish men and women lost their lives fighting on behalf of the entire world.”
He said many now feel betrayed: “They feel like all the efforts are about to go in vain.”
Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
As the Kurds — a stateless and often marginalized group — took back territory from Islamic State forces in northern Syria, they worked to created an autonomous region.
A newly empowered Iran with unfettered land access to their Hezbollah allies — without American forces in the north of Syria as a counterweight — poses an existential threat to Israel.
“Israel will be very unhappy about this because they see it as a net gain for Iran, and they are right,” Mr. Hiltermann said.
As Israel’s most powerful ally, the United States plays an outsize role in security for the country, and the withdrawal of troops could threaten that balance.
Civilians have borne the brunt of the conflict in Syria for years, with millions displaced from their homes and millions more who fled the country struggling abroad as refugees.
Aid groups warn that further destabilization of northern Syrian could spark yet another humanitarian disaster in the region.
Credit…Abdulmonam Eassa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The International Rescue Committee, which has been working to provide humanitarian assistance in parts of Syria for years, warned that a potential Turkish offensive in the region could be devastating.
“Throughout this conflict, these political and military decisions have been made without any apparent consideration of the humanitarian consequences. As a result, every decision has heightened the danger and distress for civilians,” said David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee.
Turkey’s Response to Islamic Militants
hosted a discussion on Turkey’s response to ISIL* militants in the Middle East region and ongoing U.S. strikes against targets in Syria.
*The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is a militant group that has called itself the Islamic State.