Turkey launched a military offensive, codenamed Operation Peace Spring on 9 October, two days after the Trump Administration ordered American troops to withdraw from northeastern Syria, where the US had been supporting its Kurdish allies. The operation’s aim is to push back the Syrian-Kurdish militia People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Syrian borders, and to create a 32km deep “safe zone”, where up to two million Syrian refugees can be resettled. The YPG dominates an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which had driven Islamic State (ISIS) groups out of a quarter of Syria, with the help of a US-led multinational coalition.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on “terror organisations” in the region to lay down their arms in order to end Turkey’s military operation. In the US, President Trump has faced intense criticism for the withdrawal of troops, with critics from both the Republicans and Democrats. This decision is seen as having been a green light for Turkey to launch the military attack.
Situation on the ground
According to the UN, dozens of civilians have been reported killed in Turkey’s operation so far and at least 160,000 have fled the area. Syrian government forces, Turkish fighters and other militias have been gathering near Manbij, a strategic town in the safe zone that used to be patrolled by US troops.
What has been done since?
The US has imposed sanctions on Turkish ministries and senior government officials, with Vice-President Mike Pence flying to Ankara to persuade Erdogan to halt their military incursion and declare a cease-fire. However, Erdogan vowed that he would “never declare a cease-fire”, instead calling for Trump to talk to him personally. Meanwhile, the Kremlin Press Service reported that Erdogan held a telephone conversation with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and accepted the latter’s invite to visit Russia and discuss the situation. As of 20 October, Turkey has announced a cease-fire for five days, allowing the Kurdish forces to evacuate the safe zone. However, it is unclear if the Kurds would comply, with shelling and gunfire resounding in Northeast Syria even after the cease-fire.