Turkey launches military operation in northeast Syria

Syrian National Army forces in are dispatched to the Manbij front line near Aleppo ahead of Turkey's planned operation in northern Syria, on Tuesday.

Turkey has launched a long-threatened military operation in northeast Syria to remove Kurdish-led forces from the border area and create a “safe zone” to resettle millions of Syrian refugees.

The move came after the United States announced it was withdrawing its troops from the region, effectively abandoning the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), its main ally in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group.

The SDF, led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), has denounced Washington’s move as a “stab in the back”. Turkey considers the YPG a “terrorist” group.

The United Nations, the European Union and other world powers have expressed alarm over the Turkish plan, warning that any military action could exacerbate the suffering of Syrians already beleaguered by eight years of conflict.

Here are all the latest updates:

Wednesday, October 9

People flee border town: Report

A witness in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad told the Reuters news agency that sounds of explosions rang out and smoke was rising nearby along the border with Turkey, as people fled the town en masse amid the beginning of the Turkish offensive.

SDF appeals for ‘no fly zone’

The SDF appealed to the US and its allies for a “no fly zone” to protect it from Turkish attacks.

“The SDF showed good faith to the security mechanism agreement between the US and Turkey. This left our people defenceless,” the group said.

Ankara summons US envoy over Syria operation

The US ambassador to Ankara was summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry to be briefed on the military offensive into northeastern Syria, broadcaster CNN Turk reported, minutes after Ankara launched its cross-border operation.

Erdogan announces military operation has begun

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country’s long-threatened military operation in northeastern Syria had started.

“The Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Syrian National Army, just launched #OperationPeaceSpring against PKK/YPG and Daesh terrorists in northern Syria,” Erdogan said in a post on Twitter, referencing the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA).

“Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” he added.

SDF: Turkish airstrikes have started

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said Turkish warplanes had started carrying out airstrikes on “civilian areas”.

“There is a huge panic among people of the region,” Bali said in a post on Twitter.

 

Tens of thousands of Syrian proxy fighters have been mobilised to take part in the Turkish offensive, a spokesman said.

The Syrian fighters, most of them from northwestern areas controlled by Turkey since previous offensives in 2016 and 2018, were gathered in a former refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Akcakale.
They belong to factions of the FSA, a coalition of groups armed and financed by Ankara.

At least 18,000 fighters are due to participate in the first stage of the Turkish offensive, according to Abdelrahman Ghazi Dadeh, spokesman for Anwar al-Haq, a small faction within the FSA. Dadeh said 8,000 would target the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad and 10,000 the town of Ras al-Ain, Dadeh told journalists in Akcakale.

An undetermined number of additional fighters were also expected to be mobilised for an assault on Kobane. All three towns in northeastern Syria are controlled by the YPG.

France’s Macron ‘very worried’ over Turkey operation in Syria

French President Emmanuel Macron is very worried at the prospect of a Turkish army operation into areas controlled by Kurdish forces in northern Syria, his office said.

Macron met senior Syrian Kurdish official Ilham Ahmed at the Elysee Palace on Monday “to show that France stands alongside the SDF as they are partners in the fight against ISIL and that we are very worried by the possibility of a Turkish operation in Syria,” a presidential aide told AFP.

The aide added that Paris would “pass on these messages” to the Turkish authorities.

World Leaders Address United Nations General Assembly
French President Emmanuel Macron met with senior Syrian Kurdish official Ilham Ahmed at the Elysee Palace on Monday [File: Stephanie Keith/AFP]

Macron has on occasion irritated Turkey by hosting in Paris members of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Council.

Ankara insists such groups are merely fronts for the YPG, an arm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged a three-and-a-half decade armed campaign against Turkey.

Turkey says it will inform all actors about Syria offensive

Turkey will inform all relevant countries, including the Syrian government, about its planned offensive, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

Speaking at a news conference in Algeria, Cavusoglu said the operation will be carried out in line with international law and that the only target of the offensive is armed fighters in the region.

He said Erdogan had told US President Donald Trump at the weekend that Ankara would launch the offensive after Washington stalled efforts to form a “safe zone” in the region.

Meanwhile, a vehicle believed to be carrying Turkish intelligence agents has arrived at a border point in Akcakale, Turkey near the Syrian town of Tal Abyad.

The white car was seen, which according to police was carrying Turkish intelligence officials, followed by another vehicle, believed to be carrying FSA rebels.

According to local police, the intelligence agents had arrived to carry out inspections.

Arab League chief criticises Turkey’s Syria push

The head of the Arab League said he was alarmed at Turkey’s planned military offensive into northeastern Syria.

In a statement on Wednesday, Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that such an invasion would be a “blatant violation of Syria’s sovereignty and threatens Syria’s integrity”.

He added that Turkey’s planned incursion also threatens to inflame further conflicts in eastern and northern Syria, and “could allow for the revival” of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group.

Fighters from a new border security force under the command of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) dance during a graduation ceremony in Hasaka, northeastern Syria, January 20, 2018
The SDF said Turkish warplanes had started carrying out airstrikes on ‘civilian areas’ [File: Rodi Said/Reuters]

Iran calls on Turkey to show restraint

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani called on Turkey to show restraint and avoid military action in northern Syria, and said US forces should leave the region.

“Turkey is rightfully worried about its southern borders. We believe that a correct path should be adopted to remove those concerns,” state news agency IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying.

“American troops must leave the region,” he added. “Kurds in Syria… should support the Syrian army.”

Iran holds unannounced military drill near Turkey border

Iran’s army began an unannounced military drill in the northwest of the country bordering Turkey, Iranian Students News Agency ISNA reported, as Turkish troops prepare to enter the territory of Iran’s ally Syria.

ISNA said the drill included rapid reaction units, mobile and offense brigades, and helicopters from the Army Ground Force’s Air Unit.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said his country’s preparations and deployments for its planned military offensive are continuing.

It was not clear where Akar was speaking from.

Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved, says Russia’s Lavrov

Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said as Turkish forces prepared to enter the country.

US actions in the region are contradictory and Russia is urging dialogue between Damascus and Syria’s Kurds, he told reporters during a visit to Kazakhstan following a surprise withdrawal by US troops.

“Americans have violated their promises many times,” Lavrov said, adding that the US are playing “a very dangerous game”.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Nursultan
Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov speaks during a joint press conference held with his Kazakhstan counterpart, Mukhtar Tleuberdi (not seen) in the capital Nur Sultan [Anadolu Agency]

The foreign minister also discussed the issue with Kurdish leaders in Iraq.

“They are extremely alarmed that such a lightweight treatment of this extremely delicate subject could ignite the entire region,” he said.

Syrian Kurds call up civilians

The Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria called up civilians to defend the region against a feared Turkish assault, believed to be imminent.

“We announce three days of general mobilisation in northern and eastern Syria,” it said in a statement, urging all civilians to “head to the border with Turkey to fulfil their duty.”

ISIL fighters hit US-backed Kurdish fighters

A US-backed force and two Syrian activist groups say ISIL fighters carried out an attack in the city of Raqqa in northern Syria.

The attack targeted an SDF-held post in Raqqa, which was once ISIL’s de facto capital.

The attack came as Turkey was expected to launch an offensive against the Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria.

The Kurdish fighters said ISIL launched three suicide attacks against its positions in Raqqa. There was no word on casualties.

Erdogan aide says Turkey to start Syria offensive ‘shortly’

The Turkish military, together with the FSA, will cross the Syrian border “shortly”, Erdogan’s communications director said as Ankara prepared to start military action in the region.

In a tweet, Fahrettin Altun said that Kurdish fighters there could either defect or Ankara would have to “stop them from disrupting” Turkey’s struggle against ISIL.

Tuesday, October 8

SDF says Turkey is shelling border point

The SDF said Turkish forces were attacking one of its positions near the border.

“The Turkish military is shelling one of our points on #SereKaniye Border with Turkey,” the SDF said in a post on Twitter, referencing the key border town of Ras al-Ain.

“There were no injuries to our forces. We didn’t respond to this unprovoked attack. We are prepared to defend the people and the people of NE #Syria,” it added.

Ras al-Ain was one of the places from which US troops withdrew from on Monday, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Turkish MPs extend mandate for cross-border operations

Turkey’s parliament voted to extend by another year a mandate that allows the government to order cross-border military offensives in Iraq and Syria.

The mandate has allowed the country to battle Kurdish rebels, ISIL fighters and other groups that Turkey views as “terrorists” in Iraq and Syria and has been extended every year since 2014.

The current mandate expires on October 30.

Turkish ambassador urges states to take back suspected ISIL fighters

Umit Yalcin, Turkey’s ambassador to Britain, urged states to take back suspected ISIL fighters amid Turkey’s seemingly imminent military push into northern Syria.

“All the countries should take back their own ‘terrorist’ fighters or ‘terrorists’. That is the ideal thing. Because when they were leaving their countries, they had their nationalities and passports,” Yalcin told UK broadcaster Sky News.

“Those countries should take those people back to their own countries and they can bring them justice, or take them to court or rehabilitate them,” he added.

The SDF is currently holding 12,000 suspected ISIL fighters – some of whom are foreign nationals – in several detention facilities spread across northern Syria, as well as some 58,000 family members, according to reports.

U.S. and Turkish military forces conduct a joint ground patrol inside the security mechanism area in northeast, Syria, October 4, 2019. Picture taken October 4, 2019
Washington has made clear it does not support Turkey’s planned offensive  [US Army handout via Reuters]

Trump consulted Pentagon over Syria troop withdrawal

US President Donald Trump consulted with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley “over the last several days” about a possible Turkish strike in Syria, a spokesman for the US Defense Department said.

“Unfortunately, Turkey has chosen to act unilaterally. As a result, we have moved the US forces in northern Syria out of the path of potential Turkish incursion to ensure their safety. We have made no changes to our force presence in Syria at this time,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.

Russia warns against actions that ‘inhibit peace process’

Russia’s security council said it was important to avoid hindering the peace process in Syria, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The influential council discussed the creation of a constitutional committee in the country and “remarked that at this stage everyone should avoid any actions that can inhibit the peace process in Syria,” Peskov said.

Peskov had earlier said Russia was not informed about the withdrawal of the US from the region.

“We still don’t know which troops are being withdrawn, in what amount, and whether they are being withdrawn at all,” he added.

Will Turkey succeed in creating a ‘safe zone’ for Syrians?

Ankara plans to create a “safe zone” in northern Syria within which it can resettle millions of Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey.

But some critics of the proposal have cast doubts over its feasibility.

 Turkish military helicopter flies over as Turkish and U.S. troops return from a joint U.S.-Turkey patrol in northern Syria, as it is pictured from near the Turkish town of Akcakale, Turkey,
Turkey’s defence ministry has said it is all set to launch its military push into northeast Syria [File: Murad Sezer/Reuters]

Britain ‘deeply concerned’ by Turkish military plans

Britain said it was “deeply concerned” by Turkey’s looming move to target Kurdish militias in northern Syria.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the British government had been “consistently clear with Turkey that unilateral military action must be avoided as it would destabilise the region”.

Syrian minister calls on Kurds to reconcile with government

Faisal Mekdad, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, called on Syrian Kurds to rejoin the government side rather than “plunge into the abyss” as Kurdish militias in the country’s northeast brace for an imminent Turkish attack.

“The homeland welcomes all its sons and Damascus will solve all Syrian problems in a positive way, away from violence,” Mekdad was quoted as saying by the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper.

“We advise those who have gone astray to return to the nation, because the nation is their final destiny,” he added , vowing to “defend all Syrian territory”.

Mekdad’s comments were the first Syrian government reaction since Trump‘s announcement on withdrawing US troops from the northern region.

Syrian Kurds take part in a demonstration against Turkish threats at a US-led international coalition base on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town in Syria's Hasakeh province near the Turkish border on Oc
Syrian Kurds take part in a demonstration near the Turkish border [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

Trump: US has not ‘abandoned the Kurds’

The US government had not “abandoned the Kurds”, Trump said in a post on Twitter, despite seemingly giving the green light for the Turkish operation by pulling US troops from the region.

“We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters,” Trump said.

Turkey says it is ready for Syria push

The Turkish defence ministry said it was all set to launch its military push into northeast Syria.

Turkey’s armed forces “will never tolerate the establishment of a terror corridor on our borders. All preparations for the operation have been completed,” it said in a post on Twitter.

“It is essential to establish a safe zone/peace corridor to contribute to our region’s peace and stability, and for Syrians to achieve a safe life.”

Turkish military struck Syria-Iraq border: Report

The Turkish military carried out attacks targeting the Syrian-Iraqi border overnight to prevent Kurdish forces using the route to reinforce northeast Syria, two Turkish officials told the Reuters news agency.

“One of the fundamental goals was to cut off before the operation in Syria the transit route between Iraq and Syria,” a security official said. “In this way, the group’s transit to Syria and support lines, including ammunition, are shut off.”

It was not clear what damage was caused or whether there were casualties.

Russia, Turkey discuss northeast Syria

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed the situation in northeast Syria with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, by telephone.

A Russian foreign ministry statement released no details of the conversation but said the two ministers agreed to continue a close dialogue.

Russia, a major military ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad aiding his forces in the fight against rebels, has emerged as a leading power broker in Syria and has said that the country’s territorial integrity must be respected by all outside powers.

Source: Al Jazeera and News Agencies