US withdraws troops from NE Syria as Turkish military operations expand

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the United States decided to withdraw its 1,000 troops in northern Syria as Turkey’s military operation expanded.

The withdrawal of US troops came as reports emerged of a deal between the Syrian regime and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to deploy Syrian forces along the borders.

According to the Reuters news agency, an  SDF official said that the deal was purely military, with political talks to take place after the Turkish aggression is thwarted.

Ankara says its military action is targeting the US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spearheaded by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, an important US ally in the war against ISIS.

The YPG is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, due to their ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, which has waged an armed insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

From Kobani in the West, the offensive would reach as far as Hasaka in the east and extend some 30 km into Syrian territory, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said, with the border town of Ras al-Ain now under Turkish sway.

Turkey also said Turkish and allied Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces captured the M4 highway, a road some 30-35 km into Syrian territory, which would cut a major corridor connecting the Kurdish-held areas of Syria’s north.

The war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), said that a Turkish airstrike in Ras al-Ain killed 14 people including 10 civilians on Sunday.

According to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) foreign journalists were among the dead, without providing any details.

SANA reported that a video had surfaced showing the bodies and the injured, most of whom had been mutilated and suffered burns.

Turkey now faces sanctions from the United States, a NATO unless it halts the offensive.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said Washington was examining “extremely troubling” reports that a Kurdish politician and captured Kurdish fighters were killed by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels amid the offensive.

Kurdish forces and SOHR reported that Hevrin Khalaf, the Future Syria Party’s secretary-general, and her driver were ambushed, dragged from their car and summarily executed on Saturday.

Turkey so far captured 109 square km of terrain, according to state sources.

According to the SOHR, at least 112 fighters with the SDF, 8 Turkish soldiers, 81 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and 60 civilians had been killed.

Ankara wants to establish a “safe zone” inside Syria, where it can relocate millions of refugees present in the country. Erdogan threatened open borders for refugees to flee Europe, if the European Union did not endorse Turkish incursion, prompting a backlash from the EU.

UN: Turkish offensive in northeast Syria uproots 130,000 people 

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