U.S. To Pull All Remaining Troops From Syria As Turkey Advances

The United States is poised to withdraw some 1,000 troops from northern Syria, its defense secretary said on Sunday.

The move comes after the U.S. learnt Turkey planned to extend its military incursion against Kurdish militia further south than originally planned.

Another consideration in the decision, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper indicated, was that Washington’s Kurdish-led ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), were looking to make a deal with Russia to counter the Turkish onslaught.

Outlining Turkey’s goals, President Tayyip Erdogan said the incursion would stretch from Kobani in the west to Hasaka in the east and extend some 30 km into Syrian territory, “in line with the safe zone map which we declared previously”.

READ MORE: Fears That U.S. Withdrawal From Syria Has Revived ISIS

Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, as seen from the Turkish border town of Akcakale. Image: Getty Images.

He told a news conference in Istanbul that the border town of Ras al Ain was already under Turkish control.

Ankara also said Turkish and allied Syrian rebel forces had seized a highway some 30-35 km into Syrian territory, which would sever a major artery linking the Kurdish-run regions of war-torn Syria’s north.

An SDF official said clashes were going on along the road.

New reports of civilian casualties also surfaced. A Turkish air strike in Ras al Ain killed nine people including five civilians on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said. The SDF said a “civilian convoy” had been targeted.

People carry a woman out from her home after a mortar fired from Syria struck her house. Image: Getty Images.

Turkey’s offensive aims to neutralise the Kurdish YPG militia, the main component of the SDF and seen by Ankara as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. But the SDF has also been Washington’s key ally in fighting that has dismantled Islamic State’s jihadist “caliphate” in Syria.

Ankara’s stated aim is to carve out a “safe zone” inside Syria to resettle many of the 3.6 million Syrian war refugees it is hosting. Erdogan has threatened to send them to Europe if the EU does not back his assault.

But the Turkish offensive has triggered international alarm over its large-scale displacements of civilians and, amidst the upheaval, a heightened risk of Islamic State militants escaping from prisons run by the Kurdish-led authorities.