Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced a U.S.-Turkey brokered ceasefire deal in northeast Syria following a meeting in Ankara on Thursday, October 17.
The agreement, first reported by Middle East Eye, would see Turkey suspend military operations in northeast Syria for 120 to give the Syrian Democratic Forces time to withdraw from a 30-km zone along the Syria-Turkey border. Ankara wants to resettle millions of Syrian refugees in the area, which is in part home to Kurdish-majority cities.
“Turkey and the United States have agreed to a ceasefire in Syria,” Pence said at a press conference after meeting with Erdogan.
He said the U.S. would facilitate the removal of People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters from the area, and Turkey would then halt all operations, followed by the lifting of U.S. sanctions. Pence said the withdrawal of YPG forces had already begun.
“We have always endorsed a safe zone,” Pence said on Thursday.
SDF commander General Mazlum Abdi said later that the force had been part of talks and accepted the ceasefire. He said Washington gave the SDF “guarantees” and that the deal would be only for the current area of hostilities, and that there should be no demographic changes to the area.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had said that it would cover a 20-mile (30-km) zone.
The deal comes just days after the SDF signed up to a military agreement with the Syrian regime and Russia in a bid to push Turkey-backed rebels out of northeast Syria.
Ankara considers the predominantly-Kurdish YPG, the backbone of the multi-ethnic SDF, to be a terrorist organization inextricably linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.
Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring on October 9 to remove the SDF from the buffer zone, two days after President Donald Trump said he would pull out U.S. forces from key posts along the border.
Backed by the U.S.-led international Coalition, the SDF coalition fought the ground war against Islamic State in northern and eastern Syria, but Trump’s removal of special forces effectively ended the barrier to a Turkish incursion.
Prior to Trump’s shock announcement, U.S. and Turkish forces has been patrolling the border area as part of a roadmap for the northeast intended to prevent such an operation. Erdogan has long maintained that the YPG poses a security threat to Turkey, and also wants to resettle some two million Syrian refugees in the area.