Turkey Launches Attack Into Northeastern Syria
After US President Trump suggested he would not come to the aid of Kurdish allies in Syria, Turkey has launched a military offensive against Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria.
The Turkish army, using aircraft and artillery, launched a massive military operation into northeastern Syria on Wednesday afternoon. In recent weeks, Turkey has hinted at the necessity of the move in order to eliminate threats by armed Kurdish opposition elements in the region.
Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, tweeted on Wednesday that a long-planned Turkish military offensive in northeast Syria has begun.
“The Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Syrian National Army, just carried out #OperationPeaceSpring against PKK/YPG Daesh (ISIS) terrorists in northern Syria. Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” Erdoğan tweeted.
According to CNN, as the Turkish military campaign began, sounds of bombardments were heard loudly across northeastern Syria including in Derick, which is home to the Buzra dam. The dam provides hundreds of thousands of civilians with water.
Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) sources, reported by CNN, said that that other areas like Sikarkah, in eastern Qamishli, were struck by the bombardments, caused by airstrikes and artillery fire. The SDF is a military alliance in the Syrian War primarily led by the Kurdish militia commonly known as the People’s Protections Units or the YPG.
The SDF sources suggested that at least two civilians were killed and two others were injured, in airstrikes that targeted Misharrafa village, west of the Ras al-Ain area, in northeastern Syria. They also noted that many thousands of civilians were seen fleeing their residential homes, as widespread panic ripped through the region.
Humanitarian Groups Concerned
Meanwhile, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have voiced deep concern for the lives of people in northeastern Syria, especially those who live in refugee camps and detention centers or in small villages and towns.
Both organizations estimated the number of those at-risk people at 100,000, who live mainly in refugee camps in Hasakah, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor areas.
ICRC’s director for the Near and Middle East, Fabrizio Carboni, was quoted as saying in Geneva that humanitarian help should be ensured for refugees.
Washington Approves Turkey Offensive
Over the weekend, during a phone conversation between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Trump handed over the mantle of the battle against Islamic State fighters in northeastern Syria to Turkey. In recent years, the US has been allied with Kurdish forces in the region in a joint effort to fight Islamic State (ISIS) forces:
Fahrettin Altun, Erdoğan’s communications director, revealed in a commentary he wrote for the Washington Post published on Tuesday that President Trump agreed to transfer the battle’s leadership to Turkey during the weekend phone call between Trump and Erdoğan.
“The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army, will cross the Turkish-Syrian territories”, he was quoted by the Guardian as commenting.
In his commentary, he also described an imminent military action in northeastern Syria as a counter against terrorism, calling the Kurdish forces thugs “who should not resist the Turkish seizure of the region.”
The Turkish official, however, questioned whether the Kurdish fighters, known as the YPG, will accept the campaign’s leadership change. Commenting on a tweet, he said “YPG militants have two options; they can either defect or will have to stop them from disrupting our counter-ISIS efforts.”
Kurds Are Angered
In response to the Turkish government’s claims, Kurdish long-time leader and head of the Democratic Kurdish Party (YPG), Masoud Barzani, said in a tweet, addressing President Donald Trump:
“Dear President Trump, please know that the people of Kurdistan have always pursued their just rights. The Peshmerga have defeated ISIS and are an effective part of the coalition against terror. The blood of the Kurds is far more valuable than money and weapons. Thank you”
The weekend phone call between Trump and Erdogan suggests the US would not come to the aid of Kurdish fighters, in the case of Turkey waging a military campaign against ISIS in northeastern Syria.
Late on Tuesday night, the US-backed SDF announced that Turkish forces had already attacked areas adjacent to the northeastern borders.
A statement by the SDF read “there were no causalities among our forces and we did not react to such an unprovoked attack.”
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the attack occurred in the Sere Kaniye border area, an area from which US troops withdrew on Monday.
Pentagon Not Pleased
The US Department of Defense, also known as the Pentagon, declared on Tuesday that redeployment of US’ forces in the area was a necessary step, in order to avert US troops any harm in a crossfire.
Jonathan Hoffman, a key spokesman with the Pentagon, was quoted as saying, “We have moved the US forces in northern Syria out of the path of potential Turkish invasion to ensure the forces’ safety. We have made no changes to our forces’ presence in Syria , at the time.”
In an article he co-wrote for the Defense One military news site, Joseph Votel, who headed the US’ Central Command until March of this year and played a major role in establishing the US’ partnership with the Kurds, Votel argued that Washington’s decision to apparently abandon the Kurds could not have come at a worse time.
“This policy abandonment threatens to undo five years’ worth of fighting against Isis and will severely damage American credibility and reliability in any future fights where we need strong allies,” wrote Votel:
In the meantime, the military commander of the American-backed militias in Syria, Mazlum Kobani, said in a statement that his forces would not hesitate to attack back at any Turkish troops and military operations in the north of the country.
Speaking to the New York Times, Kobani was quoted as saying, “We have been at war for seven years, so we can continue the war for seven more years.”
Over the past several years of Syria’s civil war, US troops have been backing and training the Syrian Democratic Forces to help eliminate the Islamic State’s terrorist fighters, known as ISIS. Turkey considers the SDF as part of a long-time Kurdish opposition movement that Turkey says threatens the sovereignty of the country.
The SDF was able to retain control over parts of northern Syria, with the help of the US.
A few months ago, Turkey and the US agreed on erecting a 20-mile buffer zone in northeastern Syria. Syria rejected the plan and regarded it as an attack on Syrian sovereignty. Turkey has absorbed millions of Syrian refugees as a result of the war.
The New York Times also quoted Turkish President Erdogan as saying that the operation might happen before the news could be printed. Erdogan’s comment came as Turkish troops were reportedly moved to the Syrian border, apparently in preparation of the Turkish military operation.
EU Issues Warning Against Turkish Military Offensive
In reaction to news about a Turkish military action in northern Syria, the European Union issued a warning against attacking the Syrian territories.
A verbal statement, reported by Reuters on Monday, voiced the EU’s concern especially given the US’ abrupt decision to withdraw its troops from the region.
“The EU has from the very beginning said that any sustainable situation will not be reached by military means,” a spokeswoman told a news briefing.
Syria Rejects Turkish Intervention
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had previously already rejected any Turkish military presence or action in northeastern Syria.
In June of this year, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that his country considers Turkey’s military presence in parts of northern Syria illegal.
Muallem then demanded neighboring Turkey withdraw its troops from the Syrian territories, while asserting that Syria is not interested in a military showdown with Turkey.
Syria’s Civil War
Since 2011, the Arab Republic of Syria, home to nearly 19 million residents, has endured a civil war sparked by mass protests demanding social and economic reforms.
Since then, hundreds of thousands have been killed and injured, while millions more have been displaced. In recent years, Russia became a key ally for the Syrian government, intervening in the war and helping Syria defeat the armed opposition groups.