Kurdish forces long allied with the United States in Syria announced a new deal on Sunday with the government in Damascus, a sworn enemy of Washington that is backed by Russia, as Turkish troops moved deeper into their territory and President Trump ordered the withdrawal of the American military from northern Syria.
The sudden shift marked a major turning point in Syria’s long war.
For five years, United States policy relied on collaborating with the Kurdish-led forces both to fight the Islamic State and to limit the influence of Iran and Russia, which support the Syrian government, with a goal of maintaining some leverage over any future settlement of the conflict.
On Sunday, after Mr. Trump abruptly abandoned that approach, American leverage appeared all but gone. That threatened to give President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian and Russian backers a free hand. It also jeopardized hard-won gains against the Islamic State — and potentially opened the door for its return.
The Kurds’ deal with Damascus paved the way for government forces to return to the country’s northeast for the first time in years to try to repel a Turkish invasion launched after the Trump administration pulled American troops out of the way. The pullout has already unleashed chaos and bloodletting.
The announcement of the deal Sunday evening capped a day of whipsaw developments marked by rapid advances by Turkish-backed forces and the escape of hundreds of women and children linked to the Islamic State from a detention camp. As American troops were redeployed, two American officials said the United States had failed to transfer five dozen “high value” Islamic State detainees out of the country.
Turkey’s invasion upended a fragile peace in northeastern Syria and risks enabling a resurgence of the Islamic State, which no longer controls territory in Syria but still has sleeper cells and supporters.
Since the Turkish incursion began on Wednesday, ISIS has claimed responsibility for at least two attacks in Syria: One car bomb in the northern city of Qamishli and another on an international military base outside Hasaka, a regional capital further to the south.
Mr. Trump has said repeatedly that the United States has taken the worst ISIS detainees out of Syria to ensure they would not escape. But in fact the American military took custody of only two British detainees, half of a cell dubbed the Beatles that tortured and killed Western hostages, American officials said.
....Kurds may be releasing some to get us involved. Easily recaptured by Turkey or European Nations from where many came, but they should move quickly. Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2019
....Don't the Europeans have a lot of responsibility?” @KatiePavlich Thank you Katie, I offered ISIS prisoners to the European countries from where they came, and was rejected on numerous occasions. They probably figured that the U.S. would bear the tremendous cost as always!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2019
After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria. Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land. I said to my Generals, why should we be fighting for Syria....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2019
....I would much rather focus on our Southern Border which abuts and is part of the United States of America. And by the way, numbers are way down and the WALL is being built!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2019
Statement from President Donald J. Trump Regarding Turkey’s Actions in Northeast Syria pic.twitter.com/ZCQC7nzmME— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2019