Turkey Suspends Incursion

Oct 18, 2019
Originally published on October 18, 2019 10:42 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

What exactly is the 120-hour agreement that the U.S. helped to broker in Turkey? Is it a pause? Is it a cease-fire? We know at least how this deal was struck. After President Trump ordered all U.S. troops to evacuate northeast Syria, he sent Vice President Mike Pence to pressure Turkey to stop its military incursion in Syria. That's how we got here. NPR's Daniel Estrin is near the border with Syria in Dohuk, Iraq.

Hi, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: So let's try to answer some of those questions. What is in this cease-fire deal, if we can call it that?

ESTRIN: Well, the U.S. and Turkey put out a statement, and they're calling it a five-day pause. The Kurdish forces have agreed to this cease-fire deal, and actually, the deal gives Turkey everything it wants. The Turkish side has agreed to pause its military operation in Syria to allow for the withdrawal of the YPG. That's the Kurdish group that Turkey wants away from its border. And the deal says that its military campaign will stop entirely when those Kurdish-led forces have retreated 20 miles south of the Turkish border.

KING: OK. So so far, is it holding?

ESTRIN: So far, mostly it is. The spokesman of the Turkish-backed force told us that most of the fighting has stopped but not all. There have been some reports of Turkish shelling, and it may take some time for the dust to settle here.

KING: How do Kurds in Syria feel about this deal?

ESTRIN: Well, many Syrian Kurds celebrated the news when it came out last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS HONKING)

ESTRIN: They were honking their horns. They were shooting guns in the air in celebration. And some Syrians told us last night they just wanted the fighting to stop. But others are afraid about what this actually means. We've been speaking to a woman named Sevinaz Evdike all this week. She's in northeast Syria. She has family fighting with the Kurdish forces.

SEVINAZ EVDIKE: I don't know if this is good news or bad news. The people do not agree that our forces go away from us, and we stay under the mercy of I don't know who. I am confused.

ESTRIN: So there are still a lot of questions about how this will work out.

KING: It's interesting to hear her say, we stay under the mercy of I don't know who. So confusion, it sounds like, among many people about who is actually in charge. What are the big questions that still need to be answered?

ESTRIN: Well, that is one big question. Will the Syrian regime come in? Who will be in charge? And will the Kurds still get to keep some autonomy in Syria - because the Kurds had led a secular, democratic enclave in this area? So is that over now? Another question - how much land will the Kurdish forces have to retreat from?

At one point, the Turks had said that the area should be maybe 300 miles wide. The Kurdish commander's saying the deal only covers a much smaller area. And then also, Mike Pence, the vice president, is saying that the U.S. is facilitating the Kurdish withdrawal. But how will the U.S. do that effectively - because the U.S. has bombed its main military base in northern Syria? It's pulling out its troops. We spoke with a U.S. official who said this took the U.S. military by surprise, and this official's not sure how it's going to be handled.

KING: Oh, that's really interesting. Here in the U.S., President Trump is celebrating this deal. He's giving himself a ton of credit. What he is saying, Daniel, is really pretty striking, isn't it?

ESTRIN: Well, he called his approach unconventional. And he said, sometimes, you have to let them fight like two kids in a lot. You have to let them fight, and then you pull them apart.

That statement is angering Brett McGurk. He used to be Trump's envoy to fight ISIS in the area, and then he quit in protest last year. And he calls Trump's statement obscene and ignorant. He says that, considering that a couple hundred people have died, as many as 200,000 innocent people have fled their homes - there are reports of executions by Turkish-backed forces, possible war crimes, he says. And also, some ISIS prisoners escaped during all this mayhem.

And he told NPR yesterday that, you know, the U.S. will not be calling the shots on the details of what happens now. Turkey's Erdogan is headed to Russia. He's going to meet Putin next week. And he says Russia is the power broker here now.

KING: And I suppose there will be some big questions about what role Russia is going to play, yeah?

ESTRIN: That's right. We'll have to see next week.

KING: NPR's Daniel Estrin in Dohuk, Iraq. Thanks so much, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.