Morning Brief

Turkey’s Incursion in Syria Is Driving a Humanitarian Crisis

Even as Erdogan agrees to a temporary cease-fire, aid agencies have suspended operations.

A displaced Syrian woman receives humanitarian aid on Oct. 12 in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province.
A displaced Syrian woman receives humanitarian aid on Oct. 12 in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Turkey’s offensive in Syria fuels a humanitarian crisis, Boris Johnson brings a Brexit deal back to Parliament for approval, and Donald Trump’s chief of staff admits a quid pro quo amid the impeachment inquiry.

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Aid Agencies Struggle to Respond to Crisis in Northern Syria

The ongoing Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria has already displaced around 300,000 people, who had already fled earlier conflict during Syria’s eight-year civil war. As the frontlines remain in flux, some aid agencies are struggling to respond to the crisis in a region where around 1.6 million people are already dependent on humanitarian aid.

The International Rescue Committee and other agencies have halted their operations in the area due to safety concerns and the outcome of the deal between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian state could affect their ability to return: Many aid organizations aren’t registered with the government in Damascus, the Guardian reports.

[Meanwhile, photos show that Turkish forces appear to be using white phosphorus—a chemical that can maim and kill humans—in their campaign against Kurdish militia, FP’s Lara Seligman reports.]

Did Turkey agree to a cease-fire? After a four-hour meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced that Turkey would implement a tentative cease-fire—a pause in military operations as the SDF withdraws from a 20-mile safe zone along the border. The temporary cease-fire gives Erdogan a major victory as it effectively enables him to extend Turkey’s borders into Kurdish territory, FP reports.

Regional consequences. Iraq’s defense minister has already expressed concerns that Turkey’s offensive and a Kurdish withdrawal could lead to a resurgence of the Islamic State, destabilizing Iraq—particularly if IS fighters held in prisons are able to escape. Iraqi officials have been hesitant to accept thousands of European jihadists held in Syria to face trial in Iraq—not to mention the difficulty of the transfers.

What We’re Following Today

Deal in hand, Boris Johnson turns to Parliament. EU leaders backed a new Brexit deal on Thursday, but now British Prime Minister Boris Johnson must win Parliament’s approval in a special Saturday session in order to take Britain out of the European Union by the Oct. 31 deadline. Johnson doesn’t have a majority, and he faces an obstacle from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). (The deal needs 318 of 650 votes to be ratified.)

The DUP opposes the new deal because it effectively leaves Northern Ireland in the EU customs union, and it has pledged to push Conservative party members to vote against it, too. With key allies refusing to back the deal, Johnson isn’t likely to win on Saturday. But a failure isn’t likely to hurt him at the polls, Owen Matthews reports for FP.

White House chief of staff admits quid pro quo? The acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, told reporters on Thursday that the United States withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in part until it investigated a theory that would help prove U.S. President Donald Trump was elected in 2016 without Russian interference. The statement—which Mulvaney later denied—undermined the administration’s defense: that it did not engage in a quid pro quo negotiation with Ukraine. The comments come amid days of testimony in the House impeachment inquiry, and Democrats have called them a turning point.

Protests swell for Catalonia independence. Thousands of protesters have flooded the streets of Barcelona for the fourth straight day, as the head of Catalonia’s government called for a new independence referendum within two years. The region itself is polarized over the issue and the demonstrations—which come after Catalan leaders were sentenced to jail for a failed bid for independence in 2017—have fueled some of the worst street violence in Spain for decades.

Keep an Eye On

The next U.S. ambassador to Russia? U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan is soon expected to be nominated to replace Jon Huntsman as Trump’s top diplomat in Moscow. But before he gets to the job, Sullivan will first face a partisan Senate confirmation hearing after being named in the impeachment inquiry, FP’s Reid Standish and Robbie Gramer report.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Bolivian President Evo Morales, in power for 13 years, is seeking a fourth term on Sunday, but his main opponent has slightly undercut the leftist leader in the polls. Morales is counting on the support of the country’s indigenous groups, including his own tribe, the Aymara—but many are divided over Morales’ alleged cronyism.

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The United Nations said Thursday that civilian casualties in the war and Afghanistan were the highest over the last three months since it began keeping track a decade ago, with 1,174 civilians killed. The increase in civilian deaths comes alongside the collapse of the peace talks with the Taliban last month.

Israel’s government. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has until the end of next week to form a coalition government, over a month after elections that ended in a near tie between his Likud party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party. Gantz has so far refused attempts at a power-sharing deal, and he will receive the mandate if Netanyahu fails.

Her Power—Women hold only 33 percent of leadership positions on average in the U.S. foreign-policy apparatus—leaving a key talent pool untapped. In the first-of-its-kind Her Power Index, FP Analytics evaluates the status and progress of women’s representation across 15 U.S. government agencies focused on foreign policy.

Odds and Ends

The city council of Dublin is pushing to bring the author James Joyce’s remains back to Ireland from Zurich, Switzerland, where he died in 1941 and is buried alongside his wife. But the head of Zurich’s James Joyce Foundation says it would be against his wishes as Joyce left Ireland in 1912 and never returned.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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