AKCAKALE, Turkey — Syria’s Kurds said Syrian government forces agreed Sunday to help them fend off Turkey’s invasion — a major shift in alliances that came after President Donald Trump ordered all U.S. troops withdrawn from the northern border area amid the rapidly deepening chaos.

The shift could lead to clashes between Turkey and Syria and raises the specter of a resurgent Islamic State group as the U.S. relinquishes any remaining influence in northern Syria to President Bashar Assad and his chief backer, Russia.

Adding to the turmoil Sunday, hundreds of Islamic State families and supporters escaped from a holding camp in Syria amid the fighting between Turkish forces and the Kurds.

The fast-deteriorating situation was set in motion last week, when Trump ordered U.S. troops in northern Syria to step aside, clearing the way for an attack by Turkey, which regards the Kurds as terrorists. Since 2014, the Kurds have fought alongside the U.S. in defeating the Islamic State in Syria, and Trump’s move was decried at home and abroad as a betrayal of an ally.

Over the past five days, Turkish troops and their allies have pushed their way into northern towns and villages, clashing with the Kurdish fighters over a stretch of 200 kilometers (125 miles). The offensive has displaced at least 130,000 people.

On Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said all American troops will withdraw from northern Syria because of the increasing danger of getting caught in the crossfire.

“We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies, and it’s a very untenable situation,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” He did not say how many would withdraw or where they would go but that they represent most of the 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria.

The peril to American forces was illustrated on Friday, when a small number of U.S. troops came under Turkish artillery fire at an observation post in the north. No Americans were hurt. Esper said it was unclear whether that was an accident.

Trump, in a tweet, said: “Very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border, for a change. Those that mistakenly got us into the Middle East Wars are still pushing to fight. They have no idea what a bad decision they have made.”

Later in the day Sunday, Kurdish officials announced they will work with the Syrian government to fend off the Turkish invasion, deploying side by side along the border. Syrian TV said government troops were moving to the north to confront the Turkish invasion but gave no details.

The Kurdish fighters had few options after the United States abandoned them, and it had been anticipated they would turn to Assad’s government for support.

A return by Assad’s forces to the region where Syrian Kurds have built up autonomy in the north would be a major shift in Syria’s long-running civil war, further cementing Assad’s hold over the ravaged country. Late Sunday, Syrian TV broadcast from the northern town of Hassakeh where residents took to the streets to celebrate the announcement of cooperation between the Syrian government and the Kurds, and many vowed to defeat the Turkish invasion.

It would also mean that U.S. troops no longer have a presence in an area where Russia and Iranian-backed militias now have a role.

It was not clear what Russia’s role was in cementing the agreement. But Russian officials have been mediating low-level talks between the Kurds and Damascus. Syria is allied with Russia, and Turkey, though it is a NATO member, has drawn close to Moscow in recent years under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The U.S. withdrawal leaves open the question of what happens to the Kurdish-run prisons and detention centers that hold thousands of Islamic State prisoners, including more than 2,000 foreign militants.

On Sunday, heavy fighting reached a Kurdish-run displaced-persons camp in Ein Eissa, some 35 kilometers (20 miles) south of the border, that is home to some 12,000 people, including around 1,000 wives and widows of Islamic State fighters and their children.

The Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria said in a statement that 785 Islamic State supporters escaped after attacking guards and storming the gates. It was not immediately possible to confirm that figure.

“It gets worse by the hour,” Esper said of the fighting. “These are all the exact things” that U.S. officials warned Erdogan would probably happen in urging him not to invade.

Erdogan on Sunday ruled out any mediation in the dispute with the Kurds, saying Turkey won’t negotiate with “terrorists.”

Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency said Turkey-backed Syrian forces had advanced into the center of a Syrian border town, Tal Abyad, on the fifth day of Turkey’s offensive. Turkey’s Defense Ministry tweeted that its forces had taken control of the main highway running between Hassakeh, a major town and logistics hub, and Ein Eissa, the administrative center of the Kurdish-held areas.

Casualties mounted. On Sunday, at least nine people, including five civilians, were killed in Turkish airstrikes on a convoy in the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syrian Kurdish officials.

Images of the attack showed bodies and severed limbs strewn in the street. Some of those killed appeared to be carrying guns. Activists said the gunmen were guarding the convoy.

Turkey said 440 Kurdish fighters have been killed since the operation began Wednesday. The SDF said 56 of its fighters have died. Turkey also said four of its soldiers were killed, along with 16 allied Syrian fighters.

———

Associated Press writer Lefteris Pitarakis reported this story in Akcakale and AP writer Sarah el Deeb reported from Beirut. AP writer Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(31) comments

Russian

Trump’s defenders aren’t arguing that he is a liar or has committed crimes they are arguing his lies and crimes don’t warrant impeachment.

Russian

Trump’s blunders have given Syria and Venezuela to Russia. Let’s pay republicans in Congress develop a spine before he’s returns Alaska to Russia.

Russian

If Warren or Biden extends an olive branch to Russia expect Putin to reciprocate and Trump to defecate

Russian

Stage 4 Dementia



President Donald Trump and senior officials had for the past two years assumed Turkey was bluffing and would never invade northern Syria, the news site Axios reported on Sunday.

wran

The Kurds are a people without a homeland of their own. There are about 30 million Kurds living in parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. There was thought after WWI to establish a homeland for the Kurds, but the way the boundaries were established the Kurds were left to be minorities in each of the above countries. There are about 15 million Kurds in Turkey. The Kurds have long wanted to establish what they call a Greater Kurdistan getting land from each of the above countries to form their own country. These countries have strongly resisted giving up any territory to the Kurds, particularly Turkey. The Kurds say they are mistreated in Turkey and have resorted to fighting the Turkish government. It seems to be a sad situation with no easy resolution.

Russian

Stage 4 Dementia



Writing on Twitter, the president suggested that the Syrian government, which the United States has accused of committing multiple war crimes including using chemical weapons on civilians, could help “protect” the Kurds from invading Turkish forces.

Russian

Russia wants Europe, Turkey and Syria Trump is delivering them

Russian

Who hires an attorney that cheated on his wife with his cousin? Perhaps a client who cheated on his wife with porn stars perhaps?

Russian

What’s worse having a black president or president under the thumb of a communist?

Russian

How much leverage over the president could Putin possibly have to ignore Turkish Muslims bombing US Troops?

Russian

What choice do Congressional republicans have knowing the KGB colonel could drop a nuclear PR bomb at anytime?

Russian

Trump cut an ran like he did from military service in Vietnam.

Russian

Is there anything Trump wouldn’t do appease Putin?

Russian

This abandonment proves 9.11 lives never mattered to Congressional republicans.

Russian

Trump is the savior of ISIS.

Russian

Trump freeing tens of thousands of ISIS fighters to attack Americans was the best birthday gift Putin ever received

Russian

Turkey never would invade Syria and bomb American troops when we had a black potus but they would when we got a Russian puppet

KR999

One thousand U.S. troops wouldn't have been anywhere near enough to fend off the Turkish invasion, so Trump had two choices; get them out of harm's way or send in more troops. Either way, the libs will decry him as abandoning former allies or being a war monger.

Thewheelone

Of course not, CD. But...Turkey would never invade knowing they might shed a drop of American blood. Get it?

Obadiah Plainsmen

So you're a Middle East expert, you willing to sacrifice your son or daughter life with that statement. BTW there are still military troops there.

Thewheelone

Yes, Obadiah and look for the Russians to send troops there soon. How dangerous is that scenario?

Obadiah Plainsmen

Oh it's very dangerous, but somehow I think there is an alternative motive for him pulling troops out. Since 1948 every decision a president has made concerning the Middle East is always about the security of Israel. Seems Israel is not to concerned about this decision, wonder why?

Thewheelone

good point, Obadiah

BunnyLou

Finally, a POTUS that will extract the USA from the Middle East quagmire we’ve been in for almost two decades. I don’t understand why the democrats are so angered by the withdrawal it is what they wanted to begin with. It was a campaign promise that has been filled.

olefool

Well BL, we were hoping we would withdraw with dignity while leaving the people there in a better position, free and safe. That was his campaign promise. Alas, he has taken his orders from the Putin and Erdogon cabal, tucked his tail between his legs and displayed the giant yellow stripe going down his spine.. That you would call that success is in keeping with your usual delusions.

KR999

Obama campaigned on ending U.S. involvement in the Middle East years ago."Obama, eyeing a 2012 re-election campaign likely to be fought over his handling of the U.S. economy, is looking to wind down a decade of war in the Muslim world that did lasting damage to the U.S. image worldwide and stretched its military and budget to the brink." (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/44990594/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/obama-all-us-troops-out-iraq-end-year/#.XaRowm5FzIU) Maybe if he had done his job, Trump wouldn't have gotten stuck with doing it.

BunnyLou

I love the fact that you have no proof, but continue to push the bs that you do. The USA did its job now is the time to leave. Since the EU will not step up to the plate and shoulder the responsibility to maintain order with the lives of their young why should we?

KR999

Excellent question Bunny.

Thewheelone

"... hundreds of Islamic State families and supporters escaped from a holding camp in Syria amid the fighting between Turkish forces and the Kurds." These bad guys will strap bombs to themselves and start killing again. Every drop of blood shed in this trumped up war is on the hands of the president; lets pray that none of our folks who are still there are in the way. Yet, Bunny marches on...

Comment deleted.
Thewheelone

The last I looked, the current bloodshed did not happen until the president made the decision to get our folks out of there. Our troop presence simply protected our friends who helped us stop ISIS now, " hundreds of Islamic State families and supporters escaped from a holding camp in Syria amid the fighting between Turkish forces and the Kurds." How about that statement, CD? Our Kurdish allies had them in check and we turned our back on them. My plan would have been to keep our minimal presence there because Turkey would not dare go into Syria at the risk of shedding one drop of American blood.

Comment deleted.
KR999

Well then maybe you should apply to be an advisor to both the president and the Pentagon.

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