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The U.S.-Negotiated Cease-Fire Deal Is 'Really Terrible,' Kurdish General Says


President Trump says he likes the deal the U.S. struck with Turkey for a five-day cease-fire in Syria. He tweeted, quote, "Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to all." But not all fire ceased. And there are reports of more deaths. And the commander of the Syrian Kurdish forces is now telling NPR that Trump's deal is a bad one. NPR's Daniel Estrin is on the line from Iraq's border with Syria. Daniel, thanks for being with us.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: It's a pleasure.

SIMON: You just spoke with the commander of the Syrian Kurdish forces. What did he tell you?

ESTRIN: Yes. His name is Mazloum Kobani. He's the top commander of the SDF, which is the Kurdish-led force that had partnered with the U.S. to fight ISIS. And these are the same forces now feeling abandoned by the U.S. as the U.S. withdraws troops and leaves these forces to face off a Turkish attack against them. This commander told us the cease-fire deal is really terrible. And he spoke to NPR in Arabic. Take a listen.

MAZLOUM KOBANI: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: So he spoke to us. He said the deal is really terrible. We looked at the conditions. And it's a deal that includes demographic changes - removing Kurds from their areas and replacing them with others. Now, the U.S.-Turkey cease-fire statement that was put out does not spell out in writing anything about demographic change. But Erdogan told U.S. reporters that - and foreign reporters that he intends to move some of the millions of Syrian refugees in his country to the area where Kurdish forces are being asked to leave. This is what the Kurdish commander means by demographic change, flooding Kurdish areas with Syrian refugees. And the Kurds feel that such - resettled refugees could be hostile to them. He said he is committed to a temporary pause in fighting. And he says his forces will retreat from a small area that's at the center of the fighting but not from the entire Turkey - the entire territory that Turkey wants.

SIMON: And this commander says he's been speaking with President Trump. What did he tell you about that?

ESTRIN: He has been speaking with Trump. And he said that he asked Trump's help to facilitate a cease-fire deal in recent days and that Trump had promised that he would speak to the Turks. And now, though, the commander, the Kurdish commander, tells us he has a message for President Trump. Do we have that clip?

KOBANI: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: He - I'll tell you what he said. He said, I would like to tell Trump that he promised to protect the Kurds. He said if the Turks threaten the Kurdish people, he would make all efforts to protect them. And the commander told us it's his duty, Trump's duty, to keep his promises as commander in chief of the United States. He also said he wanted to thank the American people and congressmen, military figures who stood in solidarity with the Kurds. He said he would like to ask them to pressure Trump to reverse the deal with the Turks.

SIMON: And he...

ESTRIN: And also to reverse the U.S. troop withdrawal from northern Syria.

SIMON: He says he's committed to the cease-fire, though, is it - is - does it seem to be holding?

ESTRIN: He says that Turkey is the one that is not abiding by the agreement. President Trump did acknowledge that. He said he spoke to Turkish President Erdogan. Erdogan said there was, quote, "minor sniper and mortar fire that was quickly eliminated." And Kurdish forces are saying, yes, attacks have slowed. And today, as of now, there is no renewed fighting but that there had been artillery and drone attacks and gunfire by Turkish-backed militia, which killed five civilians and at least 13 Kurdish fighters in Syria.

SIMON: And Turkey's President Erdogan spoke reporters. What did he say about the continued strikes?

ESTRIN: Right. The Turkish president denied there were any clashes in the area. He said Kurdish forces had begun to withdraw from the area of conflict but that Turkish forces would not leave the area. And if the forces don't fully retreat within five days, Turkey will resume attacks. And he also said he's going to be meeting with the Russian president next week. So the U.S. is retreating as Russia becomes a major power broker.

SIMON: NPR's Daniel Estrin on the line with us from the Iraqi-Syrian border. Daniel, thanks so much for being with us.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.