Turkey begins offensive aimed at Kurdish fighters in Syria

  • In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke billows from a fire inside Syria during bombardment by Turkish forces Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Turkey launched a military operation Wednesday against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria after U.S. forces pulled back from the area, with a series of airstrikes hitting a town on Syria's northern border.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) Lefteris Pitarakis

  • Shortly after the Turkish operation inside Syria had started and backdropped by a graffiti of modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a Turkish soldier stands on the Turkish side of the border in Akcakale, southeastern Turkey, on Wednesday. AP

  • In this photo provided by Rojava Media Center, a pro-Kurdish media group, Syrians flee as smoke rises from shelling by Turkish forces, in Ras al Ayn, northeast Syria, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Wednesday the start of a Turkish military operation against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria. (Rojava Media Center via AP)

  • Shortly after the Turkish operation inside Syria had started,a convoy of Turkish forces vehicles is driven through the town of Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, at the border between Turkey and Syria, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Turkey launched a military operation Wednesday against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria after U.S. forces pulled back from the area, with a series of airstrikes hitting a town on Syria's northern border.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) Lefteris Pitarakis

  • In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke billows from targets inside Syria during bombardment by Turkish forces Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Turkey launched a military operation Wednesday against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria after U.S. forces pulled back from the area, with a series of airstrikes hitting a town on Syria's northern border. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) Lefteris Pitarakis

  • Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks on the phone with Defense Minister Hulusi Akar before reportedly giving orders for the start of the military operation into Syria, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Minutes before Erdogan's announcement, Turkish jets began pounding suspected Syrian Kurdish positions in the Syrian town of Ras al Ayn, according to Turkish media reports.(Turkish Presidency Press Service via AP, Pool)

  • Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, front center, flanked by Turkish army's top commanders before he speak at the National Defence University, in Istanbul, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Akar says preparations for an expected Turkish incursion into Syria are continuing. (Turkish Defense Ministry via AP, Pool)

  • 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, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Turkey launched a military operation Wednesday against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria after U.S. forces pulled back from the area, with a series of airstrikes hitting a town on Syria's northern border.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) Lefteris Pitarakis

  • Shortly after the Turkish operation inside Syria had started, Turkish soldier stand at the border with Syria in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Turkey launched a military operation Wednesday against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria after U.S. forces pulled back from the area, with a series of airstrikes hitting a town on Syria's northern border. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) Lefteris Pitarakis

  • Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, speaks with Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in an operation room at presidential palace, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Turkey launched a military operation Wednesday against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria after U.S. forces pulled back from the area, with a series of airstrikes hitting a town on Syria's northern border. (Turkish Presidency Press Service via AP, Pool)

  • Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, second right, with military and Intelligence chiefs, ministers and his ruling party members in an operation room at the presidential palace, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Turkey launched a military operation Wednesday against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria after U.S. forces pulled back from the area, with a series of airstrikes hitting a town on Syria's northern border. (Turkish Presidency Press Service via AP, Pool)

  • Syrians flee shelling by Turkish forces in Ras al Ayn, northeast Syria, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Wednesday the start of a Turkish military operation against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad) Baderkhan Ahmad

Published: 10/9/2019 6:49:20 PM

Turkey launched airstrikes, fired artillery and began a ground offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria on Wednesday after U.S. troops pulled back from the area, paving the way for an assault on forces that have long been allied with the United States.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the campaign, which followed an abrupt decision Sunday by U.S. President Donald Trump that American troops would step aside to allow for the operation.

Trump’s move drew bipartisan opposition at home and represented a shift in U.S. policy that essentially abandoned the Syrian Kurdish fighters who have been America’s only allies in Syria fighting the Islamic State group. After Erdogan announced the offensive, Trump called the operation “a bad idea.”

There were signs of panic in the streets of residential areas close to the borders as civilians fled on foot, in cars and with rickshaws piled with mattresses and a few belongings. They included people who’d fled from the Islamic State group only few years ago.

At least seven civilians and one member of the Kurdish-led force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in the Turkish bombardment, Kurdish activists and a Syria war monitor said.

Near the town of Qamishli, plumes of smoke rose from an area close to the border after activists reported an explosion nearby. By nighttime, there were fires in one of the town’s neighborhoods, apparently ignited by the shelling.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry said Turkish ground forces, joined by allied Syrian opposition forces, had moved across the border into Syria. Shortly after, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said its fighters had repelled the Turkish ground attack in Tal Abyad.

Earlier, a U.S. defense official and a Kurdish official in Syria said the SDF has suspended operations against IS militants because of the Turkish operation. The officials who confirmed the suspension spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to provide details on the situation.

Turkey’s campaign – in which a NATO member is raining down bombs on an area where hundreds of U.S. troops are stationed – drew immediate criticism and calls for restraint from Europe. In his statement, Trump emphasized that there are no American soldiers in the area under attack.

“Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” Erdogan said in a tweet announcing what he called “Operation Peace Spring.”

He said that Turkish forces, with Ankara-backed Syrian fighters known as the Syrian National Army, had begun to eradicate what he called “the threat of terror” against Turkey.

Minutes before Erdogan’s announcement, Turkish jets began pounding suspected positions of Syrian Kurdish forces in the town of Ras al Ayn, according to Turkish media and Syrian activists. The sound of explosions could be heard in Turkey.

It was difficult to know what was hit in the first hours of the operation.

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, said Turkish warplanes were targeting “civilian areas” in northern Syria, causing “a huge panic” in the region.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those killed in the Turkish bombardments included two Christian Assyrians in Qamishli, a married couple and their child, a man in a village outside of the town of Tal Abyad, and a child in a village west of Qamishli.

Before Turkey’s attack, Syrian Kurdish forces that are allied with the United States warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

The Turkish operation meant to create a “safe zone” carries potential gains and risk for Turkey by getting even more deeply involved in the Syria war. It also would ignite new fighting in Syria’s 8-year-old war, potentially displacing hundreds of thousands.




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