Kurdish Official Says Forces Completing Withdrawal From Turkey Border

Pentagon chief says keeping some U.S. troops over parts of northeast Syria to protect oil under discussion

Members of a Syrian family use a motorcycle to flee the countryside of the northeastern Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn on the Turkish border, October 19, 2019.
Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP

A senior Kurdish official says his forces are complying with a U.S. brokered cease-fire and are completing the withdrawal of forces from a long a section of the shared border with Turkey.

Redur Khalil told The Associated Press Monday that Turkey however continues to violate the cease-fire, accusing its troops of shelling a village at dawn and seeking to carry out military operations.

He said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are preparing to complete the withdrawal from the area between Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad towns, which flank the 120 kilometers (75 miles) area under the cease-fire. He said the U.S. guarantor however has not forced Turkey to stick to the agreement.

Khalil called for an international mechanism to protect Kurdish residents who want to stay in their towns after Kurdish-led fighters leave.

Most civilians have pulled out from the Kurdish-dominated town of Ras al-Ayn, fearing revenge or repression from Turkey-backed forces. Turkey said it wants to return Syrian refugees to the evacuated areas, raising concerns over changing the demographic make-up of the area.

Earlier Monday, Turkey's foreign minister renewed warnings that his country will resume its military offensive in northeast Syria if Kurdish fighters don't vacate the region before the end of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire Tuesday evening.

Speaking in Istanbul, Mevlut Cavusoglu said: "If they don't withdraw, our operation will re-start."

He accused Syrian Kurdish groups of 30 live fire violations of the four-day-old truce, which killed one Turkish soldier.

He said Turkey retaliated against these attacks.

He added however, that Kurdish fighters were complying with the U.S.-backed deal and withdrawing from areas that Turkey controls following its wide-ranging incursion, launched on Oct. 9.

Turkey has demanded that Kurdish forces withdraw from a border strip in northern Syria 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep, where it intends to resettle refugees.

Pentagon chief: Keeping some troops under discussion

Also Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that keeping some U.S. troops in parts of northeastern Syria near oilfields with Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to ensure that the oil did not fall into the hand of ISIS or others was one of the options that was being discussed.

Speaking with reports during a trip to Afghanistan, Esper said that, while the withdrawal from northeastern Syria was under way, some troops were still with partner forces near oilfields and there had been discussions about keeping some of them there.

Esper said he had not presented that option yet, but the Pentagon's job was to look at different options.

"We presently have troops in a couple of cities that (are) located right near that area, the purpose is to deny access, specifically revenue to ISIS and any other groups that may want to seek that revenue to enable their own malign activities," Esper told reporters.

"There has been a discussion about possibly doing it (keeping some troops), there has been no decision with regard to numbers or anything like that," he added.