Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Friday that his country would postpone its assault on the Kurds in Syria, but stressed that this postponement was only temporary. This comes as Kurdish forces report that ISIS has been attacking some of their positions in Syria.
Why does Turkey want to attack the Kurds?
The Kurds are an ethnic group living in a region called Kurdistan that spans parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Armenia.
Turkey has had trouble inside its own borders with a Kurdish militant group known as the PKK. Both the U.S. and the European Union have designated the PKK as a terrorist organization, but see a distinction between the PKK and other ethnically Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq. The Kurds have proven to be invaluable allies in the fight against ISIS.
Erdogan has taken advantage of the instability in Syria to launch a series of attacks on Kurdish-held positions. In October, he promised to "descend on them [the Kurds] with more comprehensive and effective [strength]." In June, Turkey had threatened to attack the Syrian city of Manbij, where both U.S. and Kurdish forces were based. The U.S. convinced the Kurds to withdraw from Manbij, which appeased the Turkish government and prevented the attack.
What did Erdogan say?
"Our phone call with President Trump, along with contacts between our diplomats and security officials and statements by the United States, have led us to wait a little longer," Erdogan said on Friday. "Obviously, this is not an open-ended waiting period."
President Donald Trump's call with Erdogan on Dec. 14 took place less than a week before Trump's announcement that the United States would be pulling its troops out of Syria because ISIS, he said, had been defeated. Erdogan reportedly told Trump during that phone conversation that there was no longer any need for U.S. forces to remain in that country. This move upset members of Trump's own Cabinet and led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
However, shortly after announcing that ISIS had been defeated, Trump also tweeted that Russia, Iran, Syria, and "many others" were upset about the U.S. withdrawal because it meant that "now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us." He also said that he was building up the military so that if "ISIS hits us they are doomed."
There are about 2,000 U.S. forces deployed in Syria to combat ISIS. They are largely engaged in training local forces.
Meanwhile, the Kurds say that ISIS is attacking again
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a largely Kurdish group in Syria that had worked closely with the United States, reported that ISIS had launched more attacks.
The head of the SDF's media office tweeted Friday that "ISIS is launching a huge attack, heavy clashes are taking place there," and that "only 35 percent percent from Hajin is liberated by our forces." Hajin is a region in the southeastern part of Syria.
According to Reuters, an SDF official named Mustafa Bali reported that ISIS was using car bombs and militants to launch these attacks in Hajin.