Here are the terms of the deal: Turkey takes responsibility for the 11,000 imprisoned ISIS fighters, and 70,000 collaborators now held in the al Hawl and Ain Issa detention camps by Syrian Democratic Forces; and the U.S. withdraws its forces from northern Syria so Turkey can invade. Turkey will establish a 30-kilometer zone into which it will forcibly repatriate 1 million Syrian refugees on Turkish land. It will combat both the Kurdish forces that have been fighting ISIS and the Syrian Democratic Forces that are the last obstacle to Bashar al-Assad fully controlling Syrian territory. Because the U.S. persuaded the Syrian Democratic Forces to dismantle their defenses as a confidence-building measure between the SDF and Turkey, they are defenseless against the Turkish onslaught.
The deal achieves President Donald Trump’s objective of withdrawing U.S. military forces from Syria, something he has been agitating to do since December of 2018—when his announcement to that effect precipitated the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Sunday night’s abrupt policy shift, delivered after a call with Turkish President Erdoğan, appears to have caught his current secretary of defense equally off guard; Mark Esper tweeted on Monday that “the Department of Defense made clear to Turkey—as did the President—that we do not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria … We will work with our other NATO allies and Coalition partners to reiterate to Turkey the possible destabilizing consequences of potential actions to Turkey, the region, and beyond.” (He has since deleted the tweet, but not retracted the statement.) And just a few days ago, the U.S. European Command was extolling Turkish-SDF cooperation, suggesting that the president’s agreement with Erdoğan was truly unexpected.