Syrian Democratic Forces fighters have left the area of Turkish operations between Ras al-Ayn and Tel Abyad in northern Syria, SDF spokesperson Redur Xelil said on Tuesday, October 22.
“All SDF forces have withdrawn from the area of military operations according to the Turkish-American agreement,” Xelil told The Defense Post.
Earlier SDF commander General Mazlum Abdi told U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in a letter that they have pulled “all YPG forces” from the zone, AFP reported an official as saying.
Ahead of a meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed the withdrawal of the mainly-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a core component of the SDF, was incomplete, although he did not provide any evidence.
“We are talking about 700-800 already withdrawn and the rest, around 1,200-1,300, are continuing to withdraw. It has been said that they will withdraw,” Reuters reported Erdogan as saying. “All will have to get out, the process will not end before they are out.”
NATO-member Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring on October 9 after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would withdraw the majority of U.S. troops from northeast Syria.
Turkey’s armed forces and Syrian rebel groups operating under the banner of the Syrian National Army aim to push the Syrian Democratic Forces and its predominantly-Kurdish YPG south in order to occupy a 30-km-wide buffer zone along the border.
Backed by the U.S.-led Coalition, the SDF fought the ground war against ISIS in north and east Syria. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization inextricably linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.
The SDF pulled back from the border town of Ras al-Ayn (also called Serekaniye) on Sunday during a 120-hour ceasefire brokered by Pence during a visit to Erdogan in Ankara.
Turkish forces were hours away from the end of the ceasefire when Erdogan traveled to Russia on Tuesday for talks on Syria with Putin, a crucial ally of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. The SDF has already signed up to a military agreement with the Syrian regime and Russia in a bid to push Turkey-backed rebels out of northeast Syria.
Assad promises regime assistance against ‘Turkish aggression’
Assad on Tuesday said the regime would support forces in the northeast of the war-torn country against the Turkish military and their Syrian proxies.
“We are prepared to support any group carrying out popular resistance against the Turkish aggression,” he said in a video shared by the presidency.
“This is not a political decision… We are not taking any political decisions now,” he told government troops on the frontline in the province of Idlib.
“It is a constitutional duty and a national duty,” he said.
With reporting from AFP