NATO defence ministers on Thursday slammed Turkey for its military operation in Syria conducted with Russia’s help, but recognised there was little they could do to sanction their strategically important ally. Germany presented an idea it floated this week of international troops being deployed to create a security zone in northeast Syria—a notion that has been met tepidly by allies because of the situation on the ground and the need for a UN mandate.
The top commander of Syria’s Kurdish force, Mazloum Abdi, welcomed the proposal, telling journalists in northern Syria that “we demand and agree to this”.
But the NATO ministers did not directly embrace the German plan. Stoltenberg said they instead stressed their “broad support... for ways to engage the international community to find a political situation” in northern Syria.
Belgium’s defence minister, Didier Reynders, said of Germany’s troops idea: “In principle we are in favour of such an agreement to work together—but then again, the situation is totally different now” following the Turkey-Russia agreement.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, speaking at a think tank conference in Brussels before the NATO meeting, was blunt about Turkey, saying it was “heading in the wrong direction”.
“Turkey put us all in a very terrible situation and I think the incursion’s unwarranted,” Esper said.
Meanwhile, Turkey has agreed to "pause" its military action in Syria launched on October 9 on the condition that Kurdish forces withdrew from an initial 120-kilometre area from the border, following a deal with US Vice President Mike Pense last Thursday. Turkey has, however, repeatedly threatened to restart its offensive, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowing to "crush the heads" of Syrian Kurdish forces if they failed to retreat. "At the end of the 120-hour period, the United States announced that withdrawal of PKK/YPG from the area has been completed," the Turkish defence ministry said. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a phone call with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu Wednesday, also confirmed that US military officials informed their Turkish counterparts Kurdish forces withdrew from the safe zone, a Turkish diplomatic source said.