ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Russia and Turkey reached an agreement Tuesday that would cement their power in Syria, deploying their forces across nearly its entire northeastern border to fill the void left by President Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces.
The accord caps a dramatic and swift transformation of the Syrian map unleashed by Trump’s decision two weeks ago to remove the American soldiers. U.S. troops in Syria fought five years alongside Kurdishled forces in northeast Syria and succeeded in bringing down the rule of the Islamic State group there at the cost of thousands of Kurdish fighters’ lives. Now much of that territory would be handed over to U.S. rivals.
Turkey would get sole control over areas of the Syrian border captured in its invasion, while Turkish, Russian and Syria government forces would oversee the rest of the border region. Iraq’s military said Tuesday the U.S. troops coming out of Syria do not have permission to stay in Iraq, contradicting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s statement a day earlier that they would remain there to fight the Islamic State group.
Esper has also spoken of keeping some troops in eastern Syria to protect oil fields held by the Kurds. Trump ordered the U.S. troop pull-out on Oct. 7 with little consultation with advisers and in the face of heavy criticism, even by Republican allies. It opened the way for Turkey to launch a long-threatened invasion of northeast Syria two days later to drive out the U.S.- allied Kurdish fighters. Vowing to get American soldiers out of the region and its ‘‘endless wars,’’ Trump has said he sees no problem with Russia and Turkey taking over as power brokers.
The new accord was reached by Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, after six hours of negotiations as they pored over maps of Syria in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. ‘‘I believe that this agreement will start a new era toward Syria’s lasting stability and it being cleared of terrorism,’’ Erdogan said. Deal’s details Under the 10-point deal, Kurdish fighters have 150 hours starting at noon today to withdraw from almost the entire northeastern border from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border.
Russian and Syrian government forces would move in immediately to ensure the Kurdish fighters pull back 20 miles from the border. When the deadline expires on Oct. 29, joint Russian-Turkish patrols would begin along a 6-mile wide strip of the border. The exception would be the region around the town of Qamishli at the far eastern end of the border, which has some of the densest Kurdish population. Russian and Turkish officials did not immediately say what the arrangement would be there.
Also, Turkey will keep sole control of the section in the center of the border that it captured in its invasion. It extends roughly 120 kilometers (75 miles) wide and 30 kilometers (20 miles) deep between the Syrian border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. A senior Kurdish official, Redur Khalil, confirmed his forces had entirely pulled out of that zone as required under a U.S.-brokered ceasefire. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. Erdogan had been infuriated by Washington’s decision to ally with the Kurds against the Islamic State group, which empowered Kurdish self-rule ambitions.