Turkey launches Syria ground assault on Kurdish forces after US troop withdrawal
search
At least 8 civilians and 7 Kurdish fighters reported killed

Turkey launches Syria ground assault on Kurdish forces after US troop withdrawal

Intensive bombardment of Kurdish positions by jets and artillery paves way for offensive; assault comes after Trump on Sunday announced US military pullback from border area

Shortly after the Turkish operation inside Syria had started, local residents cheer and applaud as a convoy of Turkish forces vehicles is driven through the town of Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, at the border between Turkey and Syria, Oct. 9, 2019 (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Shortly after the Turkish operation inside Syria had started, local residents cheer and applaud as a convoy of Turkish forces vehicles is driven through the town of Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, at the border between Turkey and Syria, Oct. 9, 2019 (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

RAS AL-AIN, Syria (AFP) — Turkey launched a broad assault on Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria on Wednesday, with intensive bombardment paving the way for a ground offensive made possible by the withdrawal of US troops.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the attack on Twitter and soon after jets and artillery targeted Kurdish positions along the full width of the border, sending thousands of civilians fleeing their homes.

That was followed late in the evening by the beginning of a ground operation, the Turkish defense ministry said.

The spokesman for one of the pro-Turkish Syrian militant groups told AFP the land phase of the operation began in Tal Abad, and Turkish media reported special forces and armored vehicles had entered at several points along the border.

Smoke billows following Turkish bombardment on Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province along the Turkish border on October 9, 2019 (Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

At least eight civilians and seven Kurdish fighters were killed on Wednesday, mostly in cross-border artillery fire, in various locations along the border, including in the city of Qamishli, a war monitor said.

The assault had seemed inevitable since US President Donald Trump on Sunday announced a military pullback from the border, but the attack triggered international condemnation and an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council set for Thursday.

The White House said Wednesday the Turkish assault was a “bad idea” even after it had effectively gifted Erdogan a green light and smashed the US alliance with the Kurdish forces, who spearheaded five years of ground battles against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Kurdish sources reported that at least 16 positions were struck in the first hours of the operation, to which the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) responded with some cross-border artillery fire.

The SDF called on the international community to impose a no-fly zone to protect against “an imminent humanitarian crisis.”

A woman flees with her children amid Turkish bombardment on Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province along the Turkish border on October 9, 2019 (Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

Erdogan, who dubbed the attack “Operation Peace Spring,” says the offensive is necessary to curb the power of the SDF due to its ties with Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey.

He also wants a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border where Turkey could send back some of the 3.6 million refugees it hosts from the eight-year civil war.

‘General mobilization’

In the face of the onslaught, Kurdish authorities announced a general mobilization, urging all civilians to “head to the border with Turkey… to resist during this delicate historical moment.”

Kurdish leaders said they would hold their erstwhile US ally and the whole international community responsible for any “humanitarian catastrophe.”

In Ras al-Ain, Kurdish-led security forces set up checkpoints and stockpiled tires to set alight to blur the vision of Turkish military pilots, an AFP correspondent reported.

Ras al-Ain was one of the places from which US troops withdrew on Monday.

Syrians flee shelling by Turkish forces in Ras al Ayn, northeast Syria, Oct. 9, 2019 (AP Photo)

“We will not leave this land,” said Kaws Seem, a 32-year-old Ras al-Ain resident.

“War has been chasing us for years, and everyday Erdogan threatens us with a new attack,” he added.

It was expected that Ras al-Ain and Tal Abad would be the focus of the first assaults.

Kurdish forces have dug trenches and tunnels in both areas, covering streets with metal canopies to block the cameras of Turkish drones.

But the flat and open terrain favor the vastly superior Turkish military over the Kurds, who have no air force and limited equipment.

‘Massive opposition’

The Kurdish-led SDF say they lost 11,000 personnel in years of operations against IS that climaxed in March with a battle against the final bastion of the jihadists’ caliphate in Baghouz.

Trump, who is campaigning for a second mandate, has faced a barrage of criticism, including from close allies in Washington, for appearing to leave US allies to their fate.

Senior Republican senator Lindsey Graham argued the US administration had “shamelessly abandoned” the Kurds and warned he would “lead (an) effort in Congress to make Erdogan pay a heavy price.”

Wounded Kurdish fighters hold portraits of comrades who were killed while fighting against the Islamic State, during a demonstration against an anticipated Turkish incursion targeting Syrian Kurdish fighters, in front the United Nations building, in Qamishli, northeast Syria, Monday, Oct. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ahmad Baderkhan)

There has also been a chorus of international concern, including from France and Britain — the top US partners in the anti-IS coalition — and Russia, now even more firmly the main foreign player in Syria.

Since 2015, Russia has been the main military backer of the Syrian government, which has seized on the policy shift from Trump to try to persuade the Kurds to accept the restoration of central government control.

Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia also condemned the offensive, arguing it would have “negative repercussions on the security and stability of the region,” while the United Arab Emirates deplored Turkey’s “flagrant interference in Arab affairs.”

The Kurds have warned that a Turkish offensive would reverse the military gains achieved against IS and allow the jihadist group’s surviving leaders to come out of hiding.

IS claimed an overnight suicide attack by two of its fighters in its former Syria stronghold of Raqa, the latest evidence that jihadist sleeper cells remained a threat.

Join us!
A message from the Editor of Times of Israel
David Horovitz

The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.

We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.

Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.

Become a member of The Times of Israel Community
read more:
comments