Turkey’s foreign minister has said that his country’s military will attack any Syrian Kurdish fighter that remains along the border area in northeast Syria after a deadline for them to leave expires. Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters on Monday that Russian and Syrian officials provided information that some Kurdish fighters had pulled out of the border area, but others still had not. The Kurdish withdrawal is in line with a Russian-Turkish agreement reached last week.
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.
The Syrian Kurdish fighters have until 3 pm GMT Tuesday to pull back to positions about 30 kilometers from the Turkish border. Turkey and Russia will conduct joint patrols along a border strip once the Kurdish forces leave.
Syrian Kurdish forces have turned to Russia and the Syrian government in Damascus for protection.
US troops were allied with the Kurdish-led fighters for five years in the long and bloody campaign that brought down the Islamic State group in Syria.
Earlier, NATO defence ministers 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”.