A planned Turkish military operation in northern Syria has now begun, the country’s president announced Wednesday, as Kurdish fighters say warplanes are already bombing civilian areas in the region.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted that the maneuvers being carried out against Syrian Kurdish forces –which Ankara considers terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey – are part of Operation Peace Spring.
“Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” he said in a tweet. “#OperationPeaceSpring will neutralize terror threats against Turkey and lead to the establishment of a safe zone, facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their homes.”
A spokesperson for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces says Turkish warplanes have “started to carry out airstrikes on civilian areas,” causing a “huge panic among people of the region.”
The Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Syrian National Army, just launched #OperationPeaceSpring against PKK/YPG and Daesh 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.
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) October 9, 2019
The Kurds — who have been longtime U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS in Syria — requested air support from American forces in response to the strikes. But U.S. military officials tell Fox News that President Trump has ordered them to not get involved.
A small group of Turkish forces first entered northeastern Syria Wednesday morning near the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, Bloomberg reported. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency later said Turkish artillery units have been shelling suspected Syrian Kurdish targets in Tal Abayd, while two mortar shells fired from Ras al-Ayn struck the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says one fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces has been killed so far and six others have been wounded. An SDF spokesperson also says two civilians have been killed as a result of the “Turkish bombardment” of the village of Mashrafa.
The developments come after the Kurds called on their people Wednesday to move toward the border with Turkey and “carry out acts of resistance.”
“We call upon our people, of all ethnic groups, to move toward areas close to the border with Turkey to carry out acts of resistance during this sensitive historical time,” read a statement from the local civilian Kurdish authority known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.
In its call for “general mobilization,” the Kurds also urged the international community to live up to its responsibilities as “a humanitarian catastrophe might befall our people” in the region.
The stark message was in contrast to what was being said Wednesday north of the border.
Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish presidency’s communications director, called on the international community in a Washington Post op-ed “to rally” behind Ankara, which he said would also take over the fight against the Islamic State terrorists.
Turkey also is aiming to “neutralize” Syrian Kurdish militants in northeast Syria and to “liberate the local population from the yoke of the armed thugs,” Altun added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Wednesday that people were already fleeing Tal Abyad as the Turkish troops are closing in.
Turkish officials who spoke to Bloomberg on condition of anonymity say the offensive will target Syrian border towns first to minimize any chance of a Kurdish state growing near its territory.
Expectations of a Turkish invasion rose after President Trump on Sunday abruptly announced that American troops would step aside ahead of the Turkish push — a shift in U.S. policy that essentially abandoned the Syrian Kurds.
But Trump also threatened to “totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if the Turkish push into Syria went too far, and cast his decision to pull back U.S. troops as fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from the “endless war” in the Middle East.
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