A US withdrawal from the north of Syria has instilled fears among the Kurds that Turkey will soon launch a military operation in the region.
The US forces stationed in northern Syria have reportedly been withdrawing from positions on the Syrian-Turkey border at Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. This is seen to be a signal of a full withdrawal process as endorsed by US President Donald Trump over the weekend.
This development has sent shock-waves across the region, especially among the Kurds and other ethno-religious and tribal groups in northern Syria who are militarily represented by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a key ally of the US throughout the fight against ISIS over the past few years.
Protests broke out in the border town of Ras al-Ayn following the announcement. The demonstrations turned into a march towards the International Coalition base near the village of Tel Arqam in an act of defiance against the US withdrawal, which has sparked fear of potential Turkish military operations in SDF-held areas in northern Syria.
A safe-zone in northern Syria had been agreed upon between the US and Turkey and its implementation was set to appease the security concerns of both Turkey and the Kurds. Nevertheless, Turkey later revealed its plans to make deeper inroads into northern Syria so as to settle a large proportion of the millions of Syrian refugees that the country is currently holding.
The US withdrawal is seen to now pave the way for Turkey to implement its plan, which will potentially lead to military tensions between the SDF and Turkey and the possibility of an outbreak of clashes.
The SDF has released a statement noting that it has fulfilled its obligations of the safe-zone on its part, but that the US’ actions are running in contravention of those obligations.
These developments are likely to push the SDF and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the semi-autonomous political entity governing the region, to push for negotiations with the Syrian Regime in Damascus in order to counter the aforementioned safety concerns.
The Kurds of northern Syria are wary of a repeat of the Turkish incursion into Afrin that occurred in March 2018, following which the local military and political representatives as well as civilians were ousted from the region.