It could be quite possible if Turkey — satisfied with the push back of Kurds from their enclaves — decides to withdraw its troops.
Why did US President Donald Trump pull out American troops from northern Syria?
The answer may be simple. This was Trump’s election promise — to bring his troops back home, which he has fulfilled at a time of his own choosing. However, its implications are so far- reaching that it could re-order the balance of power in the volatile Middle-East.
Trump’s decision conveyed through a tweet to an unsuspecting world, including close ally, Israel, has triggered off such fast pace developments that makes it apparent that the move had been planned much earlier. First, Trump spoke to Turkish President Reccep Erdogan and told him that he wanted to withdraw his 1,000 odd troops including 50 odd Special Forces commandoes from North Syria. This part of the country has all the oil wells and they were earlier controlled by the Islamic State that was using its revenue to fund its diabolical and brutal agenda.
People of the mountains, the Kurds, have experienced the blunt edge of Turkey. Their history has been a long narrative of exile, condemnation and brutalisation. Their history has also been that of great resilience and infinite resistance
In a subsequent tweet, Trump seems to endorse — perhaps encourage — the Turkish president to send in his army to North Syria and create a 32-kilometer corridor of approximately 450 square kilometers. This corridor was meant to push back the Kurds who had enlarged themselves with the support of the United States army under the rubric of the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) with the help of its military arm – the YPG. For long, Erdogan has been alleging that YPG is linked with proscribed Kurd militant organisation, PKK, which has been waging a grim and protracted struggle against the Turkish State to preserve its identity, freedom and autonomy.
People of the mountains, the Kurds, have experienced the blunt edge of Turkey. Their history has been a long narrative of exile, condemnation, injustice and brutalisation. Their history has also been that of great resilience, stoic struggle, and infinite resistance. Even the top officers of the US army, with great respect for the female and men fighters of the Kurds, have acknowledged their special and superior role in fighting and defeating the ISIS, and making great sacrifices in extremely hostile and difficult terrain and circumstances. More than 40,000 Kurds have been killed in the last two decades of this war. In recent times, 11,000 Kurd fighters have died in the line of duty against the ISIS. Their contribution to the war against fundamentalist forces and Islamic jihadis is historic and recognised by the entire world, especially in the US and Europe.
Erdogan’s plan is to push back the Kurds away from their border and create a buffer zone where he could settle some 3.5 million refugees, who were living in Turkey ever since there was an uprising in Daraa, Syria in 2011. Indeed, despite the initial success of the Turkish invasion, it remains a conjecture if his plan will fully succeed on the ground.
No soon did Trump pull out his army from Northern Syria and parked them in the southern part of the country – the SDF/US army controls almost 1/3 of the war-torn country — there was a howl of protest in the US as well as in Europe. Trump, it seems, was not anticipating such a strong reaction. The US was criticised for betraying the Kurds who had valiantly fought against the Islamic State and helped in ousting them from Raqqa and other parts of this Levantine nation. Even Republicans thought that Trump had committed a grievous mistake. The Republicans slammed Trump’s strategically irrational decision, the Europeans sought an immediate stop of the Turkish invasion, and the western media by and large declared the Trump diktat as a cold-blooded betrayal amounting to back-stabbing of a trusted ally and friend in the form of Kurds.
Reports of SDF releasing Islamic State prisoners and their families have created a hysteria in the western media. Fear of the Islamic State regrouping and unleashing violence on western countries began to be articulated by many commentators and politicians. As the phobia and criticism spread, Trump began backtracking.
After the US withdrew, the Russians brokered an agreement between the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and SDF that allowed Damascus to re-occupy the areas under the Kurds. The move, in one sharp stroke, removed the US and western armies from Northern Syria
He has thereby announced sanctions against Turkey for invading Syria. His Defense Secretary has also cautioned Turkey from entering the strategic town of Manbij that saw a heroic fight by the SDF against the Islamic State. Women fighters dug in their heels to chase out the IS fighters. Manbij also became the epical epicenter where Kurds implemented the utopian vision of jailed and legendary Kurd leader Abdullah Ocalan’s idea of democratic governance that included universal human and fundamental rights and military, social and political empowerment of women.
After the US withdrew from Northern Syria, the Russians, displaying alacrity, brokered an agreement between the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and SDF, that allowed Damascus to re-occupy the areas under the Kurds. The move that was ostensibly meant to prevent the genocide of Kurds, in one sharp stroke, contributed in removing the US and other western armies, including French, from Northern Syria.
At the time of writing, SAA was quickly occupying spaces vacated by the US. Tanks and armoured vehicles with Russian and Syrian flags have rolled in, including in the strategic town of Manjib, with massive welcome demonstrations by local citizens. Russian troops are also providing logistical and tactical help to SAA-SDF movement in the northern part of the country.
The biggest gain, though, has been for Russian President Vladimir Putin. No sooner had the US troops withdrawn from Syria, Putin took a flight to Saudi Arabia, where he was accorded a warm welcome. This is the first trip of a Russian president in 12 years to Saudi Arabia.
It’s not known what really transpired between them, but Saudis are a key player in the happenings in the region and their intervention is necessary to evolve an end game to the unending war in Syria and beyond. Later, he visited UAE to a grand welcome. He signed deals worth $1.3 few billion with the UAE. Both UAE and Saudis hunt together and punch far above their weight in Middle-Eastern politics.
It seems Putin had a go ahead from Trump in this shuttle diplomacy. Ironically, Putin also invited a beleaguered Erdogan to Moscow. In the interim, Russia also managed to extract a promise from Turkey that they would not fight with the Syrians in Northern Syria. The presence of Russian troops in Manbij and other Kurd enclaves is an indication that the agreement is working on the ground.
Indeed, where is it all going? Are we watching an end game in Syria?
It could be quite possible if Turkey — satisfied with the push back of Kurds from their enclaves and restoration of the 2011 map of Syria — decides to withdraw its troops. It may be hastened if the US, Saudis, Qataris, French and British do not try to redraw boundaries in a region that has never been the same after the Ottoman Empire melted. Truly, it is a fast changing situation on the ground, and this could mark a tactical and long-term solution to the infinite suffering across this perennial conflict-zone, as recently witnessed by the forced migration of thousands of Kurds after the Turkish invasion.