Oct 22 2019

U.S. State Dept's Syria operation talking points contradict White House - Vox

The U.S. State Department has circulated talking points on Turkey’s military operation in northeast Syria that contradict U.S. President Donald Trump’s statements that the offensive served U.S. interests, Vox reported on Sunday.

Trump came in for harsh criticism when his Oct. 6 decision to pull U.S. troops out of areas on the Syrian-Turkish border, paving the way for Turkey’s offensive. He then sent a delegation to negotiate a halt to the fighting last week, calling the deal historic and saying it had been necessary to allow the two sides to fight to reach it.

But the talking points written by the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs paint a different picture, suggesting that permitting Turkey to launch its attack was a blunder that has cast Washington’s strategic priorities into danger.

“Turkey’s military offensive is severely undermining counter-ISIS efforts, endangering innocent civilians, and threatening peace, security, and stability in the region,” read a selection of the talking points obtained by Vox.

U.S. forces had been deployed in the region to back the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led armed group that fought on the frontline in the U.S.-backed coalition against Islamic State (ISIS).

Turkey views the SDF as a terrorist organisation, since it has close ties to outlawed Kurdish militant groups that have fought the Turkish state for decades. But the SDF had been entrusted with guarding thousands of prisoners taken during the fight against ISIS, including many foreign jihadists, as well as continuing the fight against ISIS cells in the region.

U.S. officials have raised fears that a Turkish offensive would threaten the anti-ISIS operation since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to attack last year. The State Department’s document also raises wider concerns about the impact of the Turkish onslaught.

“Turkey does not appear to be mitigating the humanitarian impact of its invasion and occupation of some parts of northeast Syria,” Vox quoted the document as saying, adding that the administration had “called on Turkey to investigate possible violations of international humanitarian law, especially unlawful attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, U.S. efforts to stabilise the region and provide humanitarian relief have been stymied by the operation since Washington has also ordered civilian personnel to withdraw.

This has left nobody on the ground to direct the use of $50 million in funds the United States had earmarked for “the protection of human rights and accountability” in Syria.

The State Department’s document has thus asked for “donor governments to contribute additional funding to support stabilisation programming to secure the enduring defeat of ISIS,” while also urging them to limit funding to areas under Turkish or Syrian government control to humanitarian relief, Vox reported.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday that the U.S. forces withdrawn from Syria would continue the fight against ISIS from neighbouring Iraq.

The five-day ceasefire negotiated by a U.S. delegation in Ankara last week comes to an end on Tuesday.