AMY GOODMAN: Let’s start with the surprise announcement, after the phone conversation between Erdogan and Trump, that the U.S. is pulling back its troops for Turkey to attack in northern Syria. Explain what you understand is happening and the significance of this.
PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, this is really what’s a Shakespearean act of betrayal. The Turks, Turkish Army is planning to come across the border with Syria. This means that the Kurds, who have been fighting ISIS, fighting Daesh, will mostly flee southwards. This is about 2 million people. So, we’re going to have what is, in effect, a major act of ethnic cleansing there. It’s not clear, from what the White House says, how far the Turks will go. They say it’s going to be on the border, but they also say the Turks are going to take over a refugee camp full of former ISIS members, particularly women and children, a place called al-Hawl. But that’s right over on the Iraqi border. If the Turks go that far, then they’re taking over a big chunk of northeast Syria.
So, this is sort of good news for the Turks. It’s very bad news for the Kurds, who lost 11,000 dead, fighting ISIS. And for ISIS, it’s very good news, because it means that their main opponent, the Syrian Kurdish forces, are either going to be fighting the Kurds — the Turks or are going to be running away or going to be dead. So, this is the sort of news I think ISIS has been waiting for, for its opponents to split up.
And it’s pretty extraordinary the statement says, “We defeated ISIS on the ground.” All the troops on the ground were led by the Kurds and some Arab allies. There was U.S. airpower, but the defeat was by the Kurds, who are not mentioned in this new agreement between Turkey and the U.S. So, it really is an extraordinary act of treachery.
AMY GOODMAN: Trump tweeted this morning, “[I]t is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their ‘neighborhood.’ They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!” exclamation point. So, if you could respond further to that, Patrick Cockburn? Again, it’s not clear if Trump is saying he’ll bring the U.S. troops home or just move them over for this Turkish onslaught.
PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, I mean, the significance of this may not be obvious to people who don’t know that piece of — that part of northern Syria, that the Kurdish population generally lives just south of the frontier line between Turkey and Syria. So the Turkish Army doesn’t have to move very far south to take over all the Kurdish cities, like Qamishli and Kobani and other places. So, as soon as they move a little bit south, you have a massive exodus of Kurds in that area.
So, you know, the statement says that — is an isolationist manifesto, in a way, saying we have nothing to do with this. But they might have told the Kurds beforehand, because, as I said, it was the Kurds who actually fought and defeated ISIS since 2014. And Turkey, for quite a long part of that period, was allowing all these foreign fighters to cross the border from Turkey into Syria. A lot of these people who are now in this refugee camp at al-Hawl, how did they get into Syria? Well, they just crossed over the Turkish border without being impeded over that time, because there was a sort of tolerant attitude on the part of Turkey towards ISIS. And Turkey made perfectly clear that if — it preferred ISIS to win rather than the Kurds. We saw that at the siege of a Kurdish city called Kobani in 2014.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier today, the United Nations warned against the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. Panos Moumtzis is the U.N. regional humanitarian chief for the Syria crisis. This is what he said.
PANOS MOUMTZIS: It’s a conflict that has gone on for far too long, and, therefore, any operation that takes place at the moment has to take into account to ensure that we don’t see any further displacement. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We are preparing for the worst, because, indeed, from experience, this could result to a displacement of people. We want to make sure that we are ready.
AMY GOODMAN: Patrick, that’s the U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis. Your response?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Sure. Well, unfortunately, we know all too well what’s likely to happen, because the Turkish Army already, last year, crossed the Syrian border into a Kurdish enclave called Afrin — it was almost entirely Kurdish-populated — and drove out the Kurdish population. President Erdogan of Turkey announced halfway through that he discovered that the original population of this area — didn’t say when — was Arab, and they should be allowed back. So, you had what was, basically, one of the very few peaceful parts of Syria suddenly devastated by war and the Kurds driven out.
And that seems to have been an early preview of what we’re likely to see in the rest of northern Syria, which is the Turkish Army crossing the border, the Kurds fleeing south — it’s not clear where they’ll go — and a resurgence of ISIS, because they’ll no longer be fighting the Kurds. So, I think we’ve got a very good idea what’s going to happen. And unfortunately, this is happening at a moment when the war in Syria seemed to be ebbing. It was still going on in different parts of the country, but nothing like what we had seen before. So, it’s suddenly been — had a new life being injected into it by this decision by Trump.
Amy Goodman is a correspondent for Democracy Now. Patrick Cockburn is a senior correspondent for the UK Independent newspaper and specialises in Middle Eastern affairs.