Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Ankara in the next 24 hours to promote a ceasefire to end Turkey’s military operations against Kurdish militias in northern Syria, President Donald Trump announced today.
“Mike (Pence) and Secretary Pompeo will go tomorrow (to Turkey) We are asking for a cease-fire. We have put in the strongest sanctions you can imagine, but they already get many. We have many more in the chamber if they are not impactful, including massive tariffs on steel,” Trump said.
A senior U.S. official refused to detail in statements to journalists whether Pence will ever meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and limited himself to saying that the purpose of the trip is to negotiate a cease-fire and show Ankara that the country “is upset” with their offensive in northern Syria.
The Turkish offensive, which began last October 9th, is directed against the Kurdish militias People’s Protection Units (YPG), allies of Washington in the fight against the extremist group Islamic State (EI), although Turkey considers them to be terrorists.
Kurdish forces are holding thousands of EI prisoners captive in Syria and have had to reduce the number of troops guarding those prisons to deal with the Turkish offensive.
For the moment, the country has not detected any “great” escape of prisoners and has only counted the escape of between 50 and 150 relatives of the radicals who were being held in camps, said the official.
That source assured that if Ankara does not agree to a cease-fire, the country will continue to press with sanctions, such as those already imposed on three Turkish ministers on Monday.
“The plan -explained the official- is to continue pressuring Turkey while we evaluate our possibilities of restoring the relationship to a normal situation, an important element in that return to normality would be a cease-fire”.
“By ceasefire, I mean that the military forces on the ground must stop moving, the Turkish forces and the Forces of Democratic Syria (FSD),” the source emphasized, referring to the armed alliance within which the YPG operate.
Trump already asked Erdogan on Monday to declare a cease-fire during a telephone conversation.
On Monday, in another call, the president also transmitted his objective to the commander of the Forces of Democratic Syria (FSD), Mazlum Abdi, said the official.
The situation on the ground has changed considerably in recent hours: forces loyal to the Syrian government of Bachar al-Assad, backed internationally by Russia, have occupied much of the ground in northern Syria, while the international coalition, led by the U.S., has confirmed its withdrawal.
In particular, the Syrian army has taken control of much of the city of Manbech, which was under the control of the Kurds and US forces.
In addition, Russian military police are patrolling the northwestern border of Manbech district, which separates Syrian and Turkish forces, the Russian Ministry of Defence reported.
This transfer of control of Manbech was a coordinated operation between Washington and Moscow through an open communication channel for both countries to exchange information on their military operations on the ground, the senior official said.
That source assured that the Russian military presence is small and does not exceed 100 troops.
“It doesn’t take more than a few Russians and a big Russian flag to attract attention,” he said.
The UN estimates that 160,000 people have been forced to leave their homes by the conflict, a figure that the Turkish authorities raise to 257,000, including 70,000 children.