ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Syrian Arab Army forces have entered Kurdish towns on Syria’s northern border with Turkey following an eleventh-hour deal between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
US President Donald Trump meanwhile has ordered the evacuation of the last remaining Green Berets from northern Syria.
The Turkish military launched a relentless air and artillery campaign against SDF positions in northern Syria on October 7 after Trump told his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan he was withdrawing US troops from the border, greenlighting Ankara’s long-threatened offensive.
The SDF held out for a week before it was forced to strike a deal with the Russian- and Iranian-backed regime in Damascus.
“To counter and prevent this [Turkish] attack, an agreement with the Syrian government, which is responsible for protecting the borders of the country and preserving Syrian sovereignty, has been reached for the Syrian army to enter and be deployed along the Syrian-Turkish border,” said the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), the political body that rules the mainly Kurdish areas.
Syrian state media agency SANA said Monday morning that “units of the Syrian Arab Army entered Tel Tamr, northwest of Hasaka to confront the Turkish enemy”.
Thousands of civilians meanwhile have fled deeper into Kurdish territory as the fighting intensifies.
“We know that we would have to make painful compromises with Moscow and Bashar al-Assad if we go down the road of working with them,” Mazlum Abdi, the overall commander of SDF forces, said in an op-ed published by Foreign Policy magazine on Sunday. “But if we have to choose between compromises and the genocide of our people, we will surely choose life for our people.”
Yasin Aktay, a top Erdogan adviser, tweeted on Monday morning that the presence of Syrian forces in the theater of war could pose a risk of further confrontation.
“The deal between PYD [Democratic Union Party] and the Syrian army does not halt our operation against terror because we did not decide on this operation overnight,” Aktay said.
“If the [Syrian] regime forces locate to the theatre of the operation to protect terror, then there is risk of war.”
US forces in northern Syria, who have trained and fought alongside the SDF, say they are ashamed of Trump’s perceived betrayal of the Kurds.
“They trusted us and we broke that trust,” one army officer told The New York Times in a telephone interview. “It’s a stain on the American conscience.”
Under the deal with the Syrian regime, regime forces are set to enter the border areas stretching from Manbij in the west to Derik (Malikiya) in the east near the Iraqi border, a senior Kurdish official told Reuters on Monday.
Both sides will discuss the political issues later, Badran Jia Kurd told the agency.
Meanwhile, Congress is pressing for “crippling sanctions” on the Turkish economy to punish its unilateral action.
“I applaud his decision to work with Congress to stop Turkeys aggression in Syria through crippling economic sanctions,” Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted on Sunday. “This decision by President Trump will be a game changer – in all the wrong ways – for Turkey.”
The week long offensive has killed dozens of civilians and caused mass displacement.
A convoy of civilians and foreign journalists was hit by a Turkish bombardment on Sunday as it made its way to Sari Kani (Ras al-Ayn) near Tel Tamar, killing at least 14 people.
Hundreds of Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated women and their children escaped a camp in Ain Issa on Sunday, while several militants broke out of makeshift prisons amid the chaos of Turkish shelling.
“The US has the worst of the ISIS prisoners. Turkey and the Kurds must not let them escape. Europe should have taken them back after numerous requests. They should do it now. They will never come to, or be allowed in, the United States!” Trump tweeted on Sunday.
Erdogan dismissed reports on Sunday of large number of ISIS family members and fighters fleeing from the camps and prisons, calling it “disinformation” aimed at provoking the West.
SDF commanders say their priorities have shifted from the anti-ISIS campaign to resisting the Turkish offensive.
France and other European countries have called on Turkey to halt its invasion of northern Syria and to find negotiated settlement.