Esper: Say, this Turkey invasion seems headed "in the wrong direction"

Maybe that cease-fire yesterday wasn’t quite as permanent as Donald Trump suggested. In fact, Defense Secretary Mark Esper admitted earlier today in Brussels, the Turks are making the situation in Syria exponentially worse. “Turkey has put us all in a very terrible situation,” Esper told a conference before a NATO summit, and is “heading in the wrong direction”:


“Turkey put us all in a very terrible situation,” Esper told a conference in Brussels on Thursday before a meeting of NATO defense ministers.

He said there are multiple crises in the Middle East and Turkey’s “unwarranted incursion into Syria” to attack the Kurds risks sapping “resources” in the region.

“There are new threats on the horizon that we ignore at our own peril,” he added.

Esper also said Turkey is “heading in the wrong direction” by carving out a “safe zone” in northern Syria and agreeing to a deal with Russia to jointly patrol the territory.

Just how safe is the “safe zone,” and just where is it? The Kurdish SDF claimed that Turkey has yet to abide by the terms of the permanent cease-fire announced by Trump yesterday, for which Trump waived the remaining sanctions against Ankara. The SDF claims that Turkey has used mercenaries to advance along a three-pronged front against Kurdish communities, but Turkey insists those are areas the Kurds were supposed to evacuate:

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) accused Turkey on Thursday of launching a large land offensive targeting three villages in northeast Syria despite a truce, but Russia said a peace plan hammered out this week was going ahead smoothly. …

But the SDF said in its statement on Thursday that Turkish forces had attacked three villages “outside the area of the ceasefire process,” forcing thousands of civilians to flee.

“Despite our forces’ commitment to the ceasefire decision and the withdrawal of our forces from the entire ceasefire area, the Turkish state and the terrorist factions allied to it are still violating the ceasefire process,” it said.

“Our forces are still clashing,” it said, urging the United States to intervene to halt the renewed fighting.


The SDF warned on Twitter that they’re not going to allow Turkey to attack their communities for long. After initially backing Trump yesterday, the militia now wants Trump to back them up by intervening with Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

Those pleas will not likely move the US to intervene, especially not militarily. As John Cornyn noted yesterday, there would have been little appetite in the US for a shooting war with Turkey over ethnic cleansing along its border, even if Erdogan had gone through the existing US “tripwire” troops at the time, so withdrawing those troops made sense, Cornyn concludes:

“If Turkey was planning on coming into northern Syria and trying to ethnically cleanse the Kurds, and U.S. troops were caught in the middle, I am not completely convinced that it was a bad idea to get them out of harm’s way,” Cornyn said.


Trump is also not likely to reverse himself so soon after his victory-lap presser yesterday to reimpose sanctions. The overall point of yesterday’s announcement was that Trump was washing his hands of the Kurds and of their disputes with the Turks. Maybe Trump will reimpose sanctions if Turkey continues to violate the terms of the cease-fire, but only after enough time passes to where he can’t be accused of being wrong yesterday.

Unfortunately for the Kurds, they’re on their own. And Turkey knows it.

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David Strom 4:30 PM | May 21, 2024