U.S., Turkey agree to ceasefire to allow Kurdish forces to retreat
LONDON — Vice President Mike Pence announced Thursday that the United States and Turkey have agreed to suspend Turkey’s incursion in northern Syria for 120 hours to allow U.S.-allied Kurdish forces to withdraw from a designated safe zone at the country's border.
Erdogan launched the offensive a week ago after President Donald Trump announced he would withdraw U.S. forces from the Syrian border earlier this month. Trump's announcement drew broad bipartisan condemnation.
Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey on Thursday in an effort to persuade him to implement a cease-fire in the escalating Syria conflict.
The diplomatic overture took place just hours after Trump downplayed the deteriorating conflict and described the Kurdish forces who are fighting Erdogan’s troops as “no angels.”
It also follows the news that Trump wrote an extraordinary letter to Erdogan warning him not to be “a tough guy” on the same day that Turkish forces launched their attack on northern Syria last week.
“You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will,” the letter read.
Getting a cease-fire will be a herculean task. On Tuesday, Erdogan vowed never to declare one.
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“They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions,” he told reporters.
Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria this month, moving out of the way for a Turkish operation, has left the region in chaos as Kurdish troops feel abandoned by America and have turned to Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin to help deter a Turkish invasion.
A week after Turkish troops entered northeastern Syria, the United States is now trying to halt Turkey's offensive on the ground and bring about a cease-fire.
But Pence's meeting with Erdogan comes hours after Trump dismissed Turkey's invasion and said the fight was over land that "has nothing to do with us."
"If Turkey goes into Syria, that’s between Turkey and Syria," he said to reporters in the Oval Office. "It's not between Turkey and the United States."
Meanwhile, on the ground in northeast Syria there was no sign of respite. Overnight, Syrian forces took the strategic border town of Kobani, according to the Rojava Information Center, a pro-Syrian Defense Forces research group based in the Kurdish-held areas.
The move will make it more difficult for Turkey to establish its “safe zone” for Syrian refugees and free of Syrian Kurdish fighters along the frontier. It is also symbolic for Syrian Kurds and their ambitions for self-rule.
As Turkish forces advance south and Syrian regime troops north, some 300,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in the first week of the Turkish invasion, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in Britain. Some 70 civilians have been killed, it added.
Earlier this week, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated the figure of displaced people to be around 160,000, including 70,000 children, since the start of Turkey's military operation Oct. 9.