According to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, NATO does not support Turkey and is thereby facing a tough choice – either go with Ankara or the “terrorists".
“We are members of NATO, and the charter of the bloc has Article 5 (urging the response of all members of the alliance when one of them is under attack). We are under the threat of a terrorist organisation. And in accordance with Article 5, NATO should be with us", he told reporters further asking:
"Are you with us or with terrorists? There has been no exact answer”, Erdogan rounded off, adding European leaders, at least with whom he recently talked over the phone, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have found themselves “under serious misinformation pressure".
US Troops Between a Rock and a Hard Place
As President Donald Trump has ordered the remaining US contingent out of northern Syria, thereby paving the way for Turkey’s incursion along their joint border with the Arab country, Defence Secretary Mark Esper told a CBS interview on Sunday that US forces are largely trapped in Syria:
"We have American forces likely caught between two opposing, advancing armies and it's a very untenable situation. I spoke with the president last night, after discussions with the rest of the national security team, and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria", Esper told "Face the Nation". "Which is where most of our forces are", he added referring to the majority of the 1,000 US troops in Syria stationed in the northern part of the country, while there is also a small presence in the south, where the US has been taking anti-Daesh fighters not affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF.)
SDF Ready to Partner With Assad
Esper also said that “in the 24 hours", the US had learned that the country’s primary ally in the Syrian campaign, the Kurdish-dominated SDF were “looking to cut a deal” with the Russian-backed Syrian Army in a bid to resist the Turks in the north – a measure the SDF had long told the US it would undertake in the event of the withdrawal of US support and which SDF commander-in-chief Mazloum Abdi detailed in his column for Foreign Policy.
Esper specified that the US will be pulling out around 1,000 troops from Syria's north, calling it a part of a "deliberate withdrawal".
Per a US official that talked to CNN on Sunday, US Central Command will determine the pace of the withdrawal and it will not happen immediately, but will take place deliberately and could take "days to weeks".
Turkish forces and the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army have launched a cross-border offensive in northeastern Syria in an attempt to clear the area from the remaining Daesh* militants as well as YPG units, with the latter deemed by Ankara as PKK-linked terrorists, and eventually set up a vast "safe zone" there.
Days earlier, the US made an abrupt announcement about the withdrawal of 50 American troops from the area, causing frustration and disappointment among the Kurds, some of whom even decided to demonstrate their opposition to the move in front of the White House.
The move reportedly followed Trump’s phone conversation with Erdogan, in which he promised not to stand in Turkey's way.
Despite a backlash from NATO allies, who fear the Turkish incursion could lead to the re-insurgence of Daesh forces and new bloodshed in the region, Erdogan made it clear Friday that Ankara would continue its military operation against Kurdish militants in northeastern Syria “no matter what anyone says". He also vowed to flood Europe with millions of refugees in the event of EU countries dubbing Turkey’s campaign an invasion.
A number of NATO allies promptly responded to Erdogan, with France and Norway ditching military export contracts with Turkey, while Sweden proposed to take measures against the country at a Europe-wide level.
Trump has authorised new "powerful sanctions on Turkey" for invading northern Syria, just days after critics blasted the president for moving US troops from the area.
*Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL/IS) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia