Emmanuel Macron: Chaos in Syria a ‘serious fault of Nato and the West’

The French leader gave a forthright evaluation of the West’s failures in the Middle East at the close of the EU summit in Brussels

France's President Emmanuel Macron gestures as he addresses media representatives at a press conference during a European Union Summit at European Union Headquarters in Brussels on October 18, 2019.  / AFP / John THYS
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French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned Nato’s strategic shortcomings in Syria in the wake of the Turkish assault saying the western alliance had committed a “serious fault” in the region.

“I consider what happened in recent days in Syria a serious fault of Nato and the West,” Mr Macron told reporters at a meeting of European leaders in Brussels, confirming a complete breakdown in communication between the members of the treaty organisation.

“I understood that we were in Nato, that the United States and Turkey were in Nato," Mr Macron told reporters at the close of the EU summit.

"Like everyone else, I learned by tweet that the United States had decided to withdraw its troops," he added.

While much of the EU summit in the Belgian capital has been dominated by discussions of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European bloc, Turkish aggression in northern Syria and its implications have been high on the agenda.

At the summit, the European Council doubled down in its condemnation of Turkey’s unilateral military action in Kurdish-held Syria saying that it causes “unacceptable human suffering, undermines the fight against [ISIS] and threatens heavily European security”.

Mr Macron explained he would meet with the Turkish President Tayyip Erdoan in the coming weeks, most likely in London, alongside UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"It's about bringing some more coherence within Nato, and let me remind each and every one that Turkey is a member of Nato, which should also bring about some form of solidarity," Mr Macron said.

He also indicated Europe would no longer look to rely on the US on matters of Middle East security, saying the continent needed to rebuild an autonomous military capacity there and could no longer be a junior partner in the region.

The French leader also elaborated on the perilous possibilities raised by the escape of ISIS prisoners held in Syria and the chances of an ISIS resurgence in the region caused by what he characterised as the “insanity” of the Turkish advance.

Mr Macron made it clear French ISIS members who tried to escape back to France through Turkey would be extradited and tried in France. "There's no direct airline from the Syrian camps to Paris-Charles de Gaulle," he said referring to the Paris airport.

Over the course of a week, the internal map of Syria has been redrawn following a hasty US withdrawal from the north of the country. Turkish troops and Turkey-backed Syrian militias launched an offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria just two days after the White House released a statement announcing the US draw down.

Attempts by the US to broker a five-day ceasefire in northern Syria have been seriously tested after Kurdish and Turkish forces clashed in and around the town of Ras al Ayn, one of the flashpoints for the most serious fighting in the area in recent days.

Prior to the announcement of the ceasefire between Ankara and Washington, struck by Vice President Mike Pence and Mr Erdogan, Turkish forces had surrounded the town on all sides. Kurdish forces had mounted a fierce defence.

The EU has also criticised the ceasefire, which US President Donald Trump said came on a “great day for civilisation".

EU Council president Donald Tusk offered a stern rebuke of the agreement saying it was "not a ceasefire” but rather a “demand for the capitulation of the Kurds". He called on Ankara to immediately halt its invasion.