Turkey launches military offensive in Syria, days after Trump announced pullback of US troops
US President Donald Trump is being roundly condemned by bi-partisan voices in Washington and around the world for “selling out” the Kurds in Syria.
Turkey began a planned military offensive into northeastern Syria on Wednesday, launching airstrikes and artillery fire across the border just days after the Trump administration announced it was pulling US troops back from the area.
The operation is aimed at pushing Kurdish forces — who were a key ally of the US in the fight against ISIS — away from Turkey’s border.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted as he announced the start of the onslaught into Syria.
Our aim is to destroy the terror corridor which is trying to be established on our southern border and to bring peace and peace to the region,
Reports of casualties
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Turkish bombing of the border region killed five civilians and injured dozens more on Wednesday. It also said three of its fighters were killed. Explosions were reported in the town of Ras al Ain in northeast Syria, on the border with Turkey.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who operate in the area are US allies. They are led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist organisation.
Witness in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad told Reuters that sounds of explosions rang out and smoke was rising nearby along the border with Turkey, as people fled the town en masse.
The Turkish state-owned Anadolu news agency reported that rockets fired from Syria’s Qamishli had landed in the centre of the Turkish border town of Nusaybin.
The SDF called for a no-fly zone to “stop attacks on innocent people”, adding on Twitter that Turkish jets have bombed military positions and civilian villagers, leading to reports of casualties.
— Coordination & Military Ops Center – SDF (@cmoc_sdf) October 9, 2019
Counter ISIS operations have “effectively stopped,” senior US official says
In early 2015, as Islamic State trampled over armies of the Middle East and menaced the west, the US turned to the Kurds for help. It was a familiar call, having been repeated over the decades whenever Washington needed a friend in the region. The outcome has been similar too.
Four years on, the people who helped safeguard the global order have been abandoned by the US on the eve of a Turkish push into Kurdish lands across north-eastern Syria. Betrayal has been an enduring theme whenever the US and the Kurds have partnered, but never before as nakedly as this.
As US armour and troops started to leave the region on Monday, a frantic Kurdish leadership was demanding explanations and readying for an invasion that could change the map of the region and prove hugely consequential in other ways too, including undermining the security gains achieved in the war on Isis.
From CNN’s Ryan Browne in Washington, DC, Turkey’s incursion into Syria has already had a “detrimental effect” on US-led counter ISIS operations, a senior US defense official told CNN.
“They have effectively stopped,” the source said of the US campaign against the militant group.
According to the source, Turkey is targeting the US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — a key US ally in the war against ISIS. Just hours after Turkey launched its offensive, the SDF said that they had suspended their anti-ISIS operations in order to deal with the attack.
The Turkish operation “has challenged our ability to build local security forces, conduct stabilization operations and the Syrian Democratic Forces [ability] to guard over 11,000 dangerous ISIS fighters. We are just watching the second largest army in NATO attack one of our best counter-terrorism partners,” the source said.
— Clarissa Ward (@clarissaward) October 9, 2019
Defend north-east Syria
at all costs
Trump defended his decision, saying the Kurds were “paid massive amounts of money and equipment” to fight and that he was leaving the fight against Isis to others for the time being.
“We are 7,000 miles away,” he tweeted, while vowing to crush the extremist movement “if they come anywhere near us”.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Monday its US partners had already begun withdrawing troops from areas along Turkey’s border. Footage aired on Kurdish news agency Hawar purportedly showed US armoured vehicles evacuating key positions near the towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad in the border region. Erdoğan also confirmed the development in remarks to reporters in Ankara.
The SDF spokesman, Mustafa Bali, accused the US of leaving the area to “turn into a war zone”, adding that the SDF would “defend north-east Syria at all costs”.