According to witnesses on the ground, sporadic artillery fire has continued in northeast Syria where Turkish forces have been targeting their offensive to establish what Erdogan calls a ‘safe-zone’, designed to clear the border between Turkey and Syria of terrorist activity. Ankara maintains that the Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes US backed Kurdsh forces, is indistinguishable from Turkey’s outlawed militant Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) and has long been angered by US support for the group during the five-year-long campaign to defeat ISIS. Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thought they had come to a temporary resolution to the violence, they met the Turkish president in Ankara for hours of talks on Thursday afternoon, announcing afterwards that Turkey had agreed to suspend its operation in the region.
The 120-hour truce was agreed to allow the Syrian Democratic Forces to withdraw, potentially halting the latest bloodshed in Syria’s long war.
The deal came not long after Erdogan had declared that there would never be a Turkish ceasefire, he claimed: “We are determined to take our operation to the end. We will finish what we started. A hoisted flag does not come down.”
US troops withdrew from the region last week as Erdogan initiated the incursion, but they were superseded by Russian troops and the Syrian Armed Forces, the Syrian state army who support President Bashar-al Assad, who himself has a loyal ally in Russia President Vladimir Putin.
However, Erdogan himself had been forging a closer relationship with Moscow, controversially receiving S-400 missiles earlier this year, a move that angered Turkey’s NATO allies due to intelligence concerns.
Conflict with Assad represents a political dilemma for both Turkey and Russia, as while troops from the respective countries are unlikely to clash, Putin will not want to see the Syrian regime weakened having recently gained a strong position after years of violence.
Another bugbear Moscow will have with the Turkish assaut is the impact it has had on ISIS, the death cult that had been on the cusp of complete removal from Syria thanks to US, Kurdish and Russian efforts.
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“There are zones located in the north of Syria where Daesh (ISIS) militants are concentrated. They were guarded until now by Kurdish armed forces. Now the Turkish army is going in, the Kurds are abandoning these camps. They could just escape.”
Russian intervention in the form of devastating airstrikes have killed around 5,000 ISIS fighters as well as 14,000 other casualties including civilians since Moscow got involved in the crisis.
Erdogan may be leaving Turkey increasingly isolated on the international stage, but today’s further strikes signal he is not done in Syria just yet.