A very senior U.S. military source who spent years designing the U.S. anti-ISIS strategy with both the Kurds and the Turks told Fox News on Thursday expressed skepticism about the Turkey-Syria cease-fire announced earlier by Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The deal was announced after Pence and Pompeo met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, and it calls for a 120-hour cease-fire. The military offensive launched by Turkey into northeastern Syria last week, known as Operation Peace Spring, will pause during that time so Kurdish-led forces can pull back from the 20-mile-wide safe zone on the Turkish-Syrian border. The U.S. and Turkey agreed that the military operation will end entirely upon completion of the Kurdish withdrawal, according to the deal.
“There is no way the Kurds can leave that security zone,” the military source told Fox News. “There are thousands of Kurds who live in what the Turks want as a buffer zone. That’s where these fighters’ families live. That is where they are from.”
In other words, thousands of Kurdish civilians live in the so-called buffer zone, according to the source.
Gen. Mazloum Abdi, the Syrian Kurdish military leader who serves as commander of the SDF, announced that he would accept.
Turkish officials said they “got what we wanted” out of the meeting with the U.S., but fell short of calling the agreement a cease-fire.
“We got what we wanted. This is not a cease-fire. We only halt our operations,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the Middle East Eye (MEE) news outlet.
The joint agreement made for northeast Syria on Thursday did not explicitly use the term “cease-fire.” Rather, under its measured terms, “the Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow the withdrawal of YPG from the safe zone within 120 hours,” and “Operation Peace Spring will be halted upon completion of this withdrawal.”
The senior U.S. military source also pointed out there are four or five Islamic State detention facilities in the buffer zone, asking, “What happens to those?”
When asked if the cease-fire will hold, the source responded: “I don’t believe it.”
“I don’t know that [Mazloum] would agree to this — his goal is autonomy for the Kurds. Mazloum has already turned to Russia and [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] now that the U.S. has indicated it will not help the Kurds,” according to the senior military source.
Also of note is that Pence repeatedly referred to the Kurdish fighters — whom the U.S. military rebranded as the SDF to fight ISIS — as the YPG, which is the moniker that the Turks use to describe these Kurds. While it is true that the SDF is just a rebranded YPG, that Pence reference can be seen as a concession to Turkey, which was always angered that the United States had teamed up with the Kurds to fight ISIS.
According to this military source, calling the SDF fighters YPG now basically says “what we are now saying to those individuals who fought with us [against ISIS is] you have no status.”
Pence said the U.S. “received assurances from the YPG that they will agree to the cease-fire,” and that forces have already begun withdrawing from the Safe Zone.
The question this source had is, what message are the Russians sending to Erdogan?
“Erdogan meets in five days (120 hours) with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin in Sochi. He met with the Russian envoy to Syria today before meeting the U.S. delegation,” the source said. “What deal is NATO ally Turkey cutting with Russia? No one knows.”
“This is no great diplomatic coup,” the senior U.S. military official said moments after the Ankara press conference.
President Trump said it was “a great day for civilization” as the U.S. and Turkey struck an agreement.
“I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this ‘Dea’ for many years,” the president said. “Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!”
Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.