Οκτώβριος 16, 2019
ΤΕΛΕΥΤΑΙΑ ΝΕΑ

Turkey fires its first shots…

- in ΔΙΕΘΝΗ

Turkey fires its first shots: Ankara bombs Kurdish supply route in preparation for invasion to create a ‘peace corridor’ along its border as Trump claims ‘we haven’t abandoned the Kurds’

  • Turkey confirmed it carried out strikes against Kurdish forces on the Syria-Iraq border overnight Monday
  • Strike was designed to sever supply lines between Kurds in the two countries in preparation for invasion
  • Turkey plans to create a ‘peace corridor’ in northern Syria by driving Kurdish forces away from its border
  • Comes after Trump agreed to withdraw US troops from Syria, but denied he had abandoned the Kurds 

Turkey fired its first shots against the Kurds overnight by bombing a key supply route on the Syrian-Iraqi border, officials have confirmed.

The Turkish air force struck the Semalka Border Crossing in order to stop Kurdish forces resupplying along a route which links their territories in northern Iraq and Syria, two security officials said.

‘One of the fundamental goals was to cut off the transit route between Iraq and Syria before the operation in Syria, a source told Reuters. ‘In this way, the group’s support lines, including ammunition, are shut off.’

Video shot in the area overnight shows two large flashes against the horizon while the distant sound of fighter jets can be heard. It is thought this shows the crossing being destroyed.

It comes after Donald Trump agreed to withdraw US troops from Syria and hand control of regional security over to Turkey, which has vowed to create a ‘peace corridor’ along its border by wiping out ‘terrorists’.

Turkey views the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces – America’s key ally in the battle against ISIS – as a terror group and has previously outlined plans to strike a series of their strongholds along the border.

Trump has been accused of a ‘spineless’ capitulation to Turkey over his pledge to withdraw troops – and on Tuesday denied that he had abandoned the Kurds to their fate.

He tweeted: ‘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. Likewise our relationship with Turkey, a NATO and Trading partner, has been very good.  

Turkey has said it is ready to open a 'peace corridor' by eradicating 'terrorists' along its southern border - by which it means Kurdish troops - once the US has withdrawn (battle plans, pictured). Erdogan fired his first shots overnight by blowing up the Semalka border crossing (top right) in order to stop

Syrian National Army forces - which are backed by Turkey and not allied with the Syrian government - assemble near Manbij ahead of Turkey's planned invasion of Kurdish territory on Tuesday

Turkey has said that it plans to create a 'peace corridor' along its border with Syria by driving out terrorists - by which it means Kurdish forces - and began assembling troops for the mission on Tuesday (pictured)

Turkey has fought a decades-long insurgency by the Kurds, who demand their own independent state which would fall largely on Turkish territory. Erdogan has vowed never to let that happen (pictured, Turkish-backed rebels assemble in Syria)

Syrian National Army forces are dispatched to Manbij front line ahead of Turkey's planned operation in the east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria in Aleppo

 

Donald Trump denied abandoning the Kurds to their fate Tuesday, despite the troop withdrawal, saying that any 'unforced or unnecessary fighting' by Turkey would result in him crashing their economy

‘Turkey already has a large Kurdish population and fully understands that while we only had 50 soldiers remaining in that section of Syria, and they have been removed, any unforced or unnecessary fighting by Turkey will be devastating to their economy and to their very fragile currency. We are helping the Kurds financially/weapons!’  

Turkey has been involved in a decades-long conflict with Kurdish separatists as they demand their own state, which would fall largely on Turkish territory. 

Erdogan has been repeatedly accused of carrying out atrocities against Turkish Kurds. 

As the Syrian conflict threatened to enter a deadly new phase…

  • Iran, Turkey’s regional ally, warned Ankara not to push ahead with its invasion and to ‘respect’ the territorial integrity of Syria
  • Turkey’s vice-president said his country ‘won’t bow to threats’ after Trump warned he will crash their economy if they do anything he deems ‘off limits’
  • The Syrian government urged the Kurds to join with Assad’s forces ‘rather than plunge into the abyss’ after being abandoned by the US 
  • President Trump confirmed he will meet President Erdogan during a visit to the White House next month 

Trump was accused of a ‘spineless’ capitulation to Turkey, Iran and Russia after suddenly agreeing to withdraw US troops during a call with Erdogan on Sunday which left the Defense Department ‘blindsided’.

Turkey kills nine ‘terrorists’ in Iraq

Turkish air strikes hit Kurdish militant targets in northern Iraq, Ankara’s defence ministry said Tuesday.

The ministry said on Twitter that ‘nine terrorists were neutralised’ in air strikes in the Hakurk and Hafta regions.

There were earlier strikes, announced late Monday, in the northern Iraqi region of Gara, where ‘three terrorists were neutralised’.

The strikes were part of regular raids against Kurdish militants in Iraq and unrelated to planned operations against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

Turkey started a ground offensive and bombing campaign against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Iraq last May.

A National Security Council official, who is said to have direct knowledge of the conversation, said Trump was ‘out-negotiated’ and ‘got rolled’ by Erdogan during a routine call.

In an apparent attempt to shore up his tough-guy credentials, Trump tweeted Monday that if Turkey ‘does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey’. 

However, Turkey said will not bow to threats over its Syria plans, the Turkish vice president said Tuesday in an apparent response to President Donald Trump’s warning to Ankara the previous day about the scope of its planned military incursion into northeastern Syria.

Trump said earlier this week the United States would step aside for an expected Turkish attack on Syrian Kurdish fighters, who have fought alongside Americans for years, but he then threatened to destroy the Turks’ economy if they went too far.

The U.S. president later cast his decision to abandon the Kurdish fighters in Syria as fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from ‘endless war’ in the Middle East, even as Republican critics and others said he was sacrificing a U.S. ally and undermining American credibility.

Trump’s statements have reverberated on all sides of the divide in Syria and the Mideast. 

The Syrian National Army, component of Syrian opposition forces, held the military exercise in Afrin, near the border with Turkey, to support Turkish Armed Forces, ahead of Turkey's planned assault into Syria

Syrian National Army forces are dispatched to Manbij front line ahead of Turkey's planned operation in the east of the Euphrates River

The Syrian National Army is a group of former soldiers and commanders from the Syrian Army which split from Bashar al-Assad in the early years of the Syrian civil war, and is now supported by Turkey

A soldier armed with a heavy machine gun stands to attention during a parade of Syrian National Army forces - a Turkish-backed rebel group - in northern Syria

Turkey vowed to create a ‘peace corridor’ along the border, which it previously said will involve pushing east from Afrin through Manbij, Kobane, and Sari Kari to Qamishli on the Iraqi border

In Ankara, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said Turkey was intent on combatting Syrian Kurdish fighters across its border in Syria and on creating a zone that would allow Turkey to resettle Syrian refugees there.

Trump warns Turkey against ‘off limits’ military action in Syria 

President Donald Trump on Monday launched a harsh attack on NATO ally Turkey, threatening to destroy its economy if Ankara takes a planned military strike in Syria too far.

Trump said he would ‘totally destroy and obliterate’ Turkey’s economy if it took action in Syria that he considered ‘off-limits’. 

Trump’s stern words seemed to be aimed at placating critics who accused him of abandoning the Syrian Kurds by pulling out U.S. forces. 

Leaders from both parties and both houses of Congress joined in the criticism, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Trump’s fellow Republican.

‘As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)’ Trump tweeted.

Speaking later at the White House, Trump said he had told President Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call that Turkey could suffer the ‘wrath of an extremely decimated economy’ if it acted in Syria in a way that was not ‘humane.’ 

Turkey’s lira slid more than 2% to its lowest level in more than a month against the dollar on Monday over concerns about the planned incursion into northern Syria and Trump’s warning. 

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to carry out an incursion against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria who have links to Kurdish guerrillas operating next door in Turkey.

The United States began pulling troops back from the northeast Syrian border on Monday, effectively giving Turkey a green light to move into the area.  

‘Where Turkey’s security is concerned, we determine our own path but we set our own limits,’ Oktay said.

Meanwhile, in the Syrian capital of Damascus, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad called on the country’s Kurds to rejoin the government side after apparently being abandoned by their U.S. allies.

Mekdad’s comments were the first Syrian reaction since Trump’s announcement on Sunday and as northeastern Syria braces for an imminent Turkish attack on Syrian Kurdish militias. Trump’s statement has infuriated the Kurds, who stand to lose the autonomy they gained from Damascus during Syria’s civil war, now in its ninth year.

‘The homeland welcomes all its sons and Damascus will solve all Syrian problems in a positive way, away from violence,’ Mekdad claimed in an interview with the pro-government daily Al-Watan.

President Bashar Assad’s government abandoned the predominantly Kurdish area in northern Syria at the height of Syria’s civil war to focus on more key areas where the military was being challenged by the rebels. 

The U.S. began working with the Syrian Kurdish fighters after the emergence of the Islamic State group.

The Syrian government ‘will defend all Syrian territory and will not accept any occupation of any land or iota of the Syrian soil,’ Mekdad said about the expected Turkish incursion.

The Syrian Kurdish force has pledged to fight back, raising the potential for an eruption of new warfare in Syria.

‘We will not hesitate for a moment in defending our people’ against Turkish troops, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement, adding that it has lost 11,000 fighters in the war against the Islamic State group in Syria.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the U.S.-backed predominantly Kurdish force that fought IS invited Trump to come see the progress the force and the U.S. made in northeastern Syria.

‘We have more work to do to keep ISIS from coming back & make our accomplishments permanent. If America leaves, all will be erased,’ he tweeted, referring to the Islamic State group by an alternative acronym.

Turkey, which considers Kurdish fighters in Syria terrorists and links them to a decades-old insurgency in Turkey, has already launched two major incursions into northern Syria over the past years.  

Turkish-backed rebel forces assemble on the frontline near Manbij, a Kurdish-held town which will likely be the first target of the Turkish assault, on Tuesday

Syrian National Army forces are dispatched to Manbij front line ahead of Turkey's planned operation in the east of the Euphrates River

Syrian National Army, component of Syrian opposition forces, held the military exercise in Afrin, Syria, near the border with Turkey, to support Turkish Armed Forces

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels drive in convoy towards Aleppo as Turkey prepares for an assault on nearby Kurdish strongholds following Donald Trump's offer to withdraw US troops

Turkey began moving its forces across the border into Afrin province on Monday, while Syrian rebels which it supports (pictured) were seen moving toward Aleppo on Tuesday

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters head to an area near the Syrian-Turkish border north of Aleppo

The area inhabited by Kurdish people straddles Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia and the area currently controlled by the Kurds crosses over Iraq and Syria. Turkey fears an independent Kurdish state would threaten its security

President Trump took to Twitter to threaten Turkey and demand Europe must 'watch over' captured ISIS fightersPresident Trump took to Twitter to threaten Turkey and demand Europe must ‘watch over’ captured ISIS fighters. 

Last year Turkey launched an attack on the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin, leading to the displacement of some 300,000 people.

Also Tuesday, Iran urged Turkey not to go ahead with its planned an attack on Syrian Kurds, the Iranian state TV reported. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, to express Tehran’s opposition to the anticipated Turkish operation.

Zarif urged Turkey to respect Syria’s integrity and sovereignty, the report said.

Iran, Turkey and Russia have been working together as part of the so-called Astana group on the Syrian civil war, talks that have run parallel to U.N. efforts to find a solution to the conflict.

Trump’s announcement threw the military situation in Syria into fresh chaos and injected deeper uncertainty into the region.

U.S. involvement in Syria has been fraught with peril since it started in 2014 with the insertion of small numbers of special operations forces to recruit, train, arm and advise local fighters to combat the Islamic State. 

Trump entered the White House in 2017 intent on getting out of Syria, and even before the counter-IS military campaign reclaimed the last militant strongholds early this year, he declared victory and said troops would leave.

In recent weeks, the U.S. and Turkey had reached an apparent accommodation of Turkish concerns about the presence of Kurdish fighters, seen in Turkey as a threat. 

American and Turkish soldiers had been conducting joint patrols in a zone along the border. As part of that work, barriers designed to protect the Syrian Kurds were dismantled amid assurances that Turkey would not invade.

Turkish soldiers are seen on artillery pieces holding their positions near the border with Syria in Sanliurfa province

Turkey's vice president Fuat Oktay says his country won't bow to threats in an apparent response to U.S. U.S. President Donald Trump's warning to Ankara about the scope of its planned military incursion into Syria

President Erdogan during a news conference in Ankara today before his departure for Serbia, where he said US troops have started to withdraw from positions in northern Syria

How Turkey’s expected invasion of Syria would threaten the Kurds who defeated ISIS

What is Turkey’s problem with the Kurds?

Turkey has historically treated the Kurds unsympathetically and has effectively made them ‘mountain Turks’ by driving them into the hilly areas around the south of the country.

The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, better known as Atatürk, pushed through a constitution 70 years ago which denied the existence of distinct cultural sub-groups in Turkey, which the Kurds fall under.

Due to this, when the Kurds – along with other minorities in the country – express ethnic differences it has been repressed by the government.

Up until 1991 the daily use of the Kurdish tongue was outlawed and seen as separatism, and even today any minor expression of Kurdish nationalism can lead to imprisonment.

The government thwarts any effort by the Kurds to become political, with parties consistently shut down and party members often imprisoned for ‘crimes of opinion’.

The historical repression led to the creation of the PKK, an armed separatist movement, in 1984. Most Kurds in Turkey do not promote separatism from the Turkish state, but a large number back the PKK.

Who are the Kurds?

There are around 35million Kurds living in the hilly parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia – making them the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East.

Yet they do not have a permanent state. They do not have an official dialect but are part of a united community through race, culture and language.

The Kurdish people are made up of a number of religions but they are mostly Sunni Muslims.

The idea of a ‘Kurdistan’ came about in the 1900s following the fall of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War.

The Treaty of Sevres among the Western nations in 1920 also made provision for one.

But just three years later the Treaty of Lausanne overwrote this as it set the new boundaries for Turkey.

There was no space for a Kurdistan and left them stranded as a minority community in other countries. Attempts over the rest of the 20th Century to bring about an independent state were dashed at every turn.

What do they want?

The Kurdish people make up around 10 per cent of the Syrian population and most lived in Damascus and Aleppo before uprisings started against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011.

Despite this, they have never had basic rights and at least 300,000 have had citizenship requests denied since the 1960s.

Land has also been consistently taken from them and given to Arabs in a bit to ‘Arabize’ the area.

In 2011 when uprisings got underway, most Kurds did not publicly back a side, but from halfway through 2012 they seized the opportunity when government forces withdrew to fight rebels elsewhere.

The main Kurdish parties, notably the Democratic Union Party in January 2014  announced the creation of ‘autonomy’ for the areas of Afrin, Kobane and Jazira.

This escalated to a ‘federal system’ in March 2016 in Turmen and Arab areas snatched from ISIS.

This, unsurprisingly, was turned down by Assad, as well as the country’s official opposition and the Americans.

The Democratic Union Party claims it is not looking for independence, but says there must be Kurdish legal rights and autonomy in any political end to the Syrian war.

In government there has been a disparity, with Assad pledging to fight back for all of Syria, but his foreign minister hinting at possible talks with the Kurds in September 2017. 

What does Turkey want?

Turkey wants a ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria – 30 kilometres deep and 300 miles wide – that would push the YPG away from its border.

It says the buffer zone would also allow for the return of some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey, where anti-refugee sentiment is growing.

The YPG spearheaded the fight on the ground against the Islamic State (IS) group as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, with the support of the US-led international coalition.

But Ankara says the YPG is a ‘terrorist’ offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

A victory for Erdogan?

Since Erdogan has long pushed for the ‘safe zone’, the US move is ‘absolutely’ a victory for him, said Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

‘Erdogan has been working tirelessly to convince (US President Donald) Trump that the US should leave Syria so that Turkey can prosecute the fight against the YPG and resettle Syrians,’ he said.

The White House decision came after a phone call between Trump and Erdogan, demonstrating the Turkish leader’s ability to convince his American counterpart despite resistance within the US administration.

‘By giving the green light to Turkey to intervene, the United States has given the impression of having ‘capitulated’ with Turkish demands,’ said Jana Jabbour, a Turkish foreign policy expert at Sciences Po in Paris.

‘This in itself is a diplomatic victory for Erdogan,’ she said.

Challenges ahead?

Turkey has launched two military operations supporting Syrian opposition fighters – in northern Syria against IS in 2016 and against the YPG in 2018.

But a question remains over Turkey’s ability in the air.

During the offensive against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in early 2018, Ankara needed Russia’s permission for Turkish planes to take off.

The latest plan is much bigger in scope – and more expensive.

‘A new Syria operation will generate economic costs, and it is not certain that in the context of the current recession in Turkey the country has the means for such an operation,’ Jabbour said.

She also pointed to growing scepticism among the Turkish public towards Ankara’s involvement in the ‘Syrian chaos’.

‘This is why Ankara would have preferred an agreement with the United States for the establishment of the safe zone on the border, a scenario which would have allowed Turkey to share the burden with Washington,’ Jabbour said.

How to manage IS?

Turkey has another burden, as the White House said Ankara would now be responsible for IS fighters captured over the past two years and held in Kurdish detention centres.

Trump, who has frequently urged European governments to repatriate jihadists from their countries, has now pushed the problem onto Turkey.

Erdogan said Monday that Washington and Ankara would work on the issue together but he did not elaborate on the form of the eventual cooperation.

‘Now Turkey has to confront IS, which shows every indication of trying to regroup and threaten the countries in the area,’ Cook said.

However, Erdogan’s spokesman insisted in a tweet on Monday that Turkey ‘will not allow (IS) to return in any shape and form’.

The pull-back of troops comes hours after the White House announced Ankara would soon move forward with its objective to create a ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria and that US soldiers will not support or be involved in it. 

But there are fears a Turkish advance will reverse years of work done to drive extremists out and allow ISIS to regroup.

The US-backed SDF that controls much of the northeast region along Turkey’s border, added it ‘will not hesitate for a single moment’ to defend itself from an expected Turkish invasion and threatened ‘all-out war on the entire border’.  

France called on Turkey to avoid taking any unilateral action in northern Syria that could hinder the ongoing fight against ISIS.

The statement from the Foreign Ministry Monday warned Turkey’s threatened military incursion into northern Syria could ‘hurt regional stability’ and not help with the return of refugees to the area – as Ankara has promised. 

More French fighters joined the extremist group than any other European nationality. France has been reluctant to allow the militants home, even to face trial. 

The White House released a statement Sunday, saying President Trump spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erogdan by telephone to discuss the plans for Turkey to invade northern Syria (both leaders pictured in June 2019)

Map shows Euphrates Shield, which was a cross-border operation by the Turkish military and Turkey-aligned Syrian opposition groups during the Syrian Civil War. It led to the Turkish occupation of northern Syria

Syrian Kurds take part in a demonstration against Turkish threats at a US-led international coalition base on the outskirts of Ras al-Ayn town near the Turkish border yesterday

Members of the Kurdish Internal Security Police Force of Asayesh stand guard in Al-Qahtaniyah during a demonstration by Syrian Kurds against Turkish threats to launch a military operation on their region

Germany also expressed concerns at the prospect of an incursion by Turkey into northeastern Syria, saying such an intervention could further destabilise the war-torn country.

Ulrike Demmer, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, said today that Germany is aware of the ‘special security policy situation’ that Turkey faces on its border. 

Previous Turkish incursions into Syria

By AFP 

Turkey has previously launched two operations into Syria – in 2016 and 2018 – to push back from its border Islamic State group jihadists and Kurdish militia fighters. 

Known as Euphrates Shield, Turkish artillery pound dozens of ISIS targets around the Syrian border town of Jarabulus, near the Euphrates river in the early hours of August 24, 2016.

Turkish F-16 fighter jets and coalition war planes launch air strikes.

It is the start of operation Euphrates Shield, targeting IS and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a US-backed Kurdish militia that Ankara considers a terrorist group.

In a few hours, hundreds of Syrian rebels backed by Turkish aircraft and tanks drive IS from Jarabulus.

The offensive is launched days after an attack blamed on IS that killed 54 civilians in the Turkish town of Gaziantep.

Turkey also wants to prevent the creation of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria.

It had been alarmed when the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had earlier in August captured from IS the strategic Syrian town of Manbij, 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the Turkish border.

Turkey says the YPG is a ‘terrorist offshoot’ of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

On February 24, 2017, the Turkish army announces it has taken control of the Syrian town of Al-Bab, the final objective of Euphrates Shield and the last IS bastion in Syria’s northern Aleppo province.

For Ankara, control of the town means it can establish a buffer between the different Kurdish-controlled territories in northern Syria, preventing them from uniting. 

On January 20, 2018, Turkey launches a major air and ground operation, dubbed Olive Branch, against the YPG in Syria’s region of Afrin, about 30 kilometres from the border.

The next day, Turkish tanks and soldiers enter the region. Ankara says it aims to create a security zone deep inside Syria.

On March 18, Turkish forces and their Syrian auxiliaries oust the Kurdish militia from the town of Afrin and raise the Turkish flag.

Scenes of looting by pro-Turkish fighters draw condemnation.

Pro-Turkish forces strengthen their control of Afrin, which is emptied of its tens of thousands of inhabitants.

The fighting displaces about half of the Kurdish enclave’s 320,000 people, according to the United Nations, while rights groups document abuses after the Turkish-backed rebel takeover.

Amnesty International has charged that the Turkish armed forces have ‘turned a blind eye’ to violations.

Nearly 300 civilians were killed in the operation, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor.

Also dead are around 1,500 Kurdish militiamen and 400 pro-Turkish fighters, it says.

Turkey says it lost 45 soldiers.

But she cautioned that successes against ISIS, which she noted were achieved in significant part by Syrian Kurdish forces with international support, ‘must not be endangered’. 

Demmer said that a unilateral military intervention ‘would lead to a further escalation in Syria and contribute to a continued destabilisation of the country.’ She said it would also have negative security policy and humanitarian consequences.

A US official said American forces had evacuated two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn in northeast Syria, along the Turkish border. Other US forces in the region were still in position for now, the official added.

Kurdish-led forces in northeast Syria confirmed today that US forces had withdrawn from areas at the border with Turkey where a threatened Turkish offensive would hurt its war against ISIS and roll back five years of security achievements. 

A video posted by a Kurdish news agency showed a convoy of American armored vehicles apparently heading away from the border area of Tal Abyad. 

Pictures also showed abandoned checkpoints in Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn after US troops evacuated the border towns.

Erdogan spoke hours after the White House said US forces in northeastern Syria will move aside and clear the way for an expected Turkish assault – essentially abandoning Kurdish fighters who fought alongside American forces in the years-long battle to defeat ISIS.  

The White House released a statement late on Sunday, saying President Trump spoke with Erogdan by telephone to discuss the plans and the US will remove all of its forces from the ‘immediate area’. 

Russia, which has supported President Bashar al-Assad with an aerial bombardment campaign on his own people, said Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Moscow was aware that Turkey shared Russia’s position on Syria’s territorial integrity, adding: ‘We hope that our Turkish colleagues would stick to this position in all situations.’

He reiterated Moscow’s stance that all foreign military forces ‘with illegal presence’ should leave Syria.

Turkey said it will not permit the ISIS to return to the region, amid fears its threatened offensive against a Kurdish militia in Syria could bolster the jihadists. 

Ibrahim Kalin, a presidential spokesman, wrote on Twitter today: ‘Turkey will also continue to fight against DAESH (IS) and will not allow it to return in any shape and form.’

The Kurdish-led SDF said the US withdrawal threatened to create a security vacuum that would ‘reverse the successful effort to defeat ISIS’.

Abdulkarim Omar, who acts as foreign minister for the Syrian Kurds, said on Monday the statement is unclear as the detention areas are far from the border zone where Turkey is expected to make its incursion.

He said the US troop withdrawal from the border will have ‘catastrophic consequences’ because Kurdish-led forces would be preoccupied with defending the border, instead of protecting detention facilities or the crowded al-Hol camp which houses over 73,000 people, many of them IS families and supporters.

Omar called on the international community to work to reverse President Donald Trump’s ‘illogical’ decision or stop the Turkish offensive. 

But the European Union simply called for calm in northern Syria and warned that fresh fighting there is only like to drive more people from their homes. 

This would be Turkey’s third such incursion since 2016. Motivated largely by the aim of containing Syrian Kurdish power, Turkey already has troops on the ground across an arc of northwestern Syria, the last stronghold of anti-Damascus rebels. 

US military vehicles were seen driving northwards in northern Syria today, ahead of an anticipated Turkish invasion of the region that the Kurds say will overturn five years of achievements in the battle against ISIS

A US official said American forces had already evacuated two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn in northeast Syria, along the Turkish border

‘Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operating into Northern Syria,’ the US statement reads. 

‘The Unites States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial »Caliphate,» will no longer be in the immediate area.’ 

The White House also confirmed that Turkey plans to take into custody all ISIS fighters captured over the past two years that European powers have refused to take in. 

‘The United States Government has pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused.’

‘The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer. Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area capture over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial »Caliphate» by the United States.’ 

Ankara said its planned ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria could allow up to two million Syrian refugees to return.

The safe zone ‘will serve two purposes: secure Turkey’s borders by eliminating terrorist elements and allow refugees to return to their homes,’ Kalin said.

He said Turkey had ‘no interest in occupation or changing demographics’.

There are over 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, the highest number in the world, which has become an increasing source of tension in the country. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organisation that reports on the war, said US forces had withdrawn from an area between the towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. 

The SDF, led by the Kurdish YPG militia, said the Turkish invasion ‘will have a great negative impact’ on the war against ISIS.

Turkish forces artillery pieces being driven to their new positions near the border with Syria in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, yesterday

US-backed Kurdish-led forces in Syria said US troops began withdrawing today from their positions along Turkey's border in northeastern Syria, ahead of an anticipated Turkish invasion. Pictured (above are Turkish artillery moving into position yesterday)

Syrian Interim Government's Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff, Major General Salim Idris (left) lead a military drill of members of Turkey-backed Syrian National Army, held in Afrin district of Syria today

The Syrian National Army, made up of Syrian opposition forces and backed by Ankara, held military exercise in Afrin, Syria, near the border with Turkey, to support Turkish Armed Forces, ahead of Turkey's planned operation east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria

A military drill of Members of The Syrian National Army, held in Afrin district of Syria today

It said in a statement: ‘Despite our efforts to avoid any military escalation with Turkey and the flexibility we have shown to move forward in establishing a mechanism for the security of the borders… the American forces did not fulfill their commitments and withdrew their forces from the border areas with Turkey.

‘Turkey is now preparing for an invasion operation of northern and eastern Syria,’ added the SDF, which with US backing in recent years defeated Islamic State, across much of northern and eastern Syria.

The Turkish military operation ‘will have a great negative impact on our war against the Daesh organisation and will destroy everything that has been achieved with regards to stability during the last years,’ it added.

In a statement the SDF said: ‘The American forces did not abide by their commitments and withdrew their forces along the border with Turkey.  

Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted Saturday, before the announcement was made: ‘We will not hesitate to turn any unprovoked attack by Turkey into an all-out war on the entire border to DEFEND ourselves and our people.’ 

The Kurds have custody of thousands of captured ISIS militants, including about 2,500 highly dangerous foreign fighters from Europe and elsewhere – their native countries have been reluctant to take them back – and about 10,000 captured fighters from Syria and Iraq.

Kurdish officials have expressed concerns of a possible breakout by ISIS prisoners in case of fighting in the area.

Timeline of US involvement in Syria since 2011

Pressure on Assad

On April 29, 2011, a month after the first protests in Syria that were met with brutal force by the regime, Washington imposes sanctions on several Syrian officials.

The measures extend to President Bashar al-Assad the following month.

On August 18, US president Barack Obama and Western allies for the first time explicitly call on Assad to stand down.

In October, the US ambassador leaves Syria for ‘security reasons’. Damascus recalls its ambassador from Washington.

Obama backs off ‘red line’

In August 2013, the Syrian regime is accused of carrying out a chemical attack near Damascus that killed more than 1,400 people, according to Washington.

Despite having vowed to act with force if Syria crossed the chemical weapons ‘red line’, Obama at the last minute pulls back from punitive strikes on regime infrastructure.

Instead, on September 14, he agrees to a deal with Moscow – Assad’s main backer – that is meant to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

US targets IS

On September 23, 2014, the US and Arab allies launch air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State (IS) group, expanding a campaign underway in neighbouring Iraq.

The biggest contributor to the coalition, Washington deploys 2,000 soldiers, mostly special forces.

In October 2015, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Syrian Arab alliance of some 50,000 fighters, is created with US backing.

Dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, it receives US training and aid in the form of arms, air support and intelligence.

The SDF later overruns IS in northeastern Syria, driving out the jihadists from their last patch of territory in the village of Baghouz in March 2019.

Trump orders strikes

On April 7, 2017, US forces fire a barrage of cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat airbase, believed to be the launch site of a chemical attack that killed 88 people in Idlib province.

It is the first direct US action against Assad’s government and President Donald Trump’s most significant military decision since taking office in January 2017.

On April 14, 2018, the US – with the support of France and Britain – launches new retaliatory strikes after an alleged regime chemical attack on the then rebel-held town of Douma, in which some 40 people were killed.

Withdrawal announced

On December 19, 2018, Trump announces that all of the roughly 2,000 US troops in Syria will be withdrawn because IS had been ‘defeated’.

The surprise decision prompts Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign and is met with concern by France, Britain and Germany, but praise from Russia and Turkey.

On January 16, 2019, a suicide attack claimed by IS kills four US servicemen and 15 others at a restaurant in Syria’s northern city of Manbij.

It is the deadliest attack against US forces since they deployed.

On August 7, Turkish and US officials agree to jointly manage a buffer zone between the Turkish border and areas in Syria controlled by the YPG, which Istanbul considers a ‘terrorist’ threat.

US steps aside

But on October 6, Washington announces that US forces would withdraw from the border areas to make way for a ‘long-planned operation’ by Turkish forces.

The following day, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirms that Turkish action against Kurdish militants in Syria is imminent.

The United Nations says it is ‘preparing for the worst’ and the European Union warns that civilians could be harmed.

Asked about the White House comments, Erdogan said that both Turkey and the US were working separately to see ‘what steps can be taken’ so that foreign fighters in prison can be repatriated.

‘This is being worked on,’ he said today.

A senior UN envoy for Syria said the fighting sides should ‘put people first’ amid concerns an invasion by Turkish forces into a densely populated area could be triggered. 

Panos Moumtzis, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Syria, speaking in Geneva today, stressed there were ‘a lot of unanswered questions’ about the consequences of the operation.

He added civilians must be spared in any Turkish military manoeuvres and added that the UN had seen a ‘bitter history’ of safe zones in places like Srebrenica.

Moumtzis was referring to the slaughter by Bosnian Serb troops of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995 in a UN-declared ‘safe zone’ where Dutch peacekeepers were unable to protect civilians. 

He said: ‘We don’t know what is going to happen…we are preparing for the worst.

‘We understand that there is going to be some kind of security zone which will be very specifically targeted to a military operation or to an area where there has to be some clearance.

‘So our hope is that there will be full cooperation by all to make sure that it happens as smoothly as possible, without resulting in displacement, and ensuring protection of civilians, ensuring that the basic principles of humanity will be respected on the ground.’

He said the UN’s priorities were to ensure that any prospective Turkish offensive not result in new displacements, that humanitarian access remain unhindered and that no restrictions be put in place on freedom of movement.

The UN has a contingency plan to address additional civilian suffering, but ‘hopes that will not be used,’ Moumtzis said.   

More than 1,000 US troops are currently deployed in northeastern Syria but will no longer be present during the invasions. 

The US soldiers work closely with the Kurdish YPG, which leads the Syrian Democratic Forces in the regions. 

Turkey is highly likely to wait until US soldiers have withdrawn from northern Syria before launching an offensive, a senior Turkish official said today.

He added that the withdrawal of US forces from the planned area of operations could take one week and that Ankara was highly likely to wait for this in order to avoid ‘any accident’. 

Fighters from a new border security force under the command of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) dance during a graduation ceremony in Hasaka, northeastern Syria, last January

On Monday, the US-backed SDF said such an operation would reverse years of successful Kurdish-led operations to defeat the Islamic State group and allow some of its surviving leaders to come out of hiding.

It also warned that a Turkish invasion would pose a threat to SDF-run prisons and informal settlements housing thousands of IS jihadists and their families.  

Ankara wants to push the US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces from its border, saying that the group is a ‘terrorist’ offshoot of Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

The Turkish military has twice launched offensives in Syria – against IS in 2016, and in 2018 against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the SDF.

Long marginalised, Syria’s Kurds have – beyond heavy campaigns against IS – essentially stayed out of the country’s eight-year civil war, instead setting up their own institutions in areas under their control.

In the areas of Ras al-Ayn, Tal Abyad and Kobane, all bordering Turkey, Kurdish forces have dug trenches and tunnels in preparation for a Turkish offensive, the Observatory said Sunday. 

The US announcement will likely be seen as a long-feared abandonment of Kurdish allies who bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against the Islamic State militants.  

A risky victory for Erdogan after US Syria withdrawal

By AFP

What does Turkey want?

Turkey wants a ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria – 30 kilometres deep and 480 kilometres (300 miles) wide – that would push the YPG away from its border.

It says the buffer zone would also allow for the return of some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey, where anti-refugee sentiment is growing.

The YPG spearheaded the fight on the ground against the Islamic State (IS) group as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, with the support of the US-led international coalition.

But Ankara says the YPG is a ‘terrorist’ offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

A victory for Erdogan?

Since Erdogan has long pushed for the ‘safe zone’, the US move is ‘absolutely’ a victory for him, said Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

‘Erdogan has been working tirelessly to convince (US President Donald) Trump that the US should leave Syria so that Turkey can prosecute the fight against the YPG and resettle Syrians,’ he said.

The White House decision came after a phone call between Trump and Erdogan, demonstrating the Turkish leader’s ability to convince his American counterpart despite resistance within the US administration.

‘By giving the green light to Turkey to intervene, the United States has given the impression of having ‘capitulated’ with Turkish demands,’ said Jana Jabbour, a Turkish foreign policy expert at Sciences Po in Paris.

‘This in itself is a diplomatic victory for Erdogan,’ she told AFP.

Challenges ahead?

Turkey has launched two military operations supporting Syrian opposition fighters – in northern Syria against IS in 2016 and against the YPG in 2018.

But a question remains over Turkey’s ability in the air.

During the offensive against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in early 2018, Ankara needed Russia’s permission for Turkish planes to take off.

The latest plan is much bigger in scope – and more expensive.

‘A new Syria operation will generate economic costs, and it is not certain that in the context of the current recession in Turkey the country has the means for such an operation,’ Jabbour said.

She also pointed to growing scepticism among the Turkish public towards Ankara’s involvement in the ‘Syrian chaos’.

‘This is why Ankara would have preferred an agreement with the United States for the establishment of the safe zone on the border, a scenario which would have allowed Turkey to share the burden with Washington,’ Jabbour said.

How to manage IS?

Turkey has another burden, as the White House said Ankara would now be responsible for IS fighters captured over the past two years and held in Kurdish detention centres.

Trump, who has frequently urged European governments to repatriate jihadists from their countries, has now pushed the problem onto Turkey.

Erdogan said Monday that Washington and Ankara would work on the issue together but he did not elaborate on the form of the eventual cooperation.

‘Now Turkey has to confront IS, which shows every indication of trying to regroup and threaten the countries in the area,’ Cook said.

However, Erdogan’s spokesman insisted in a tweet on Monday that Turkey ‘will not allow (IS) to return in any shape and form’.

Διαβάστε Επίσης

Συρία: 275.000 σύν… εκτοπισμένοι σε μια βδομάδα…

Περισσότεροι από 275.000 άνθρωποι έχουν εκτοπισθεί, εξαιτίας της