Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened Europe he will send 3.6million refugees to the continent if the invasion of Syria is defined as an occupation.
‘Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you,’ Erdogan said in a speech to parliament.
Turkey’s commandos moved against Kurdish fighters last night after the artillery and air force pounded northern Syria with a barrage of shelling, sending thousands fleeing.
The invasion has been widely condemned around the world, with European leaders and President Donald Trump warning Erdogan he risked exacerbating suffering in the war-ravaged region and allowing for IS to flourish.
Terrified residents were seen fleeing last night on foot, by car and piling rickshaws high with their possessions as they left their homes – a grim echo of how they sought refuge from the Islamic State only a few years before.
Video footage released by Turkey’s Defence Ministry shows ‘hero’ commandos moving through fields under cover of darkness and firing rounds after Operation Peace Spring was launched on Wednesday afternoon.
Trump – who ordered American troops out of the area – said Turkey’s incursion was a ‘bad idea’ and said that Washington ‘does not endorse this attack.’
In the statement, Trump added that Turkey had committed to ‘ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place – and we will hold them to this commitment.’
Senior members of his own Republican Party condemned him for abandoning Syrian Kurds, who have been loyal allies of Washington in the fight against ISIS.
Turkey says it intends to create a ‘safe zone’ over an area about 30 miles deep and 75 miles wide to push Kurdish militia away from its border and eventually allow the repatriation of up to two million Syrian refugees.
Video footage released by Turkey’s Defence Ministry shows ‘hero’ commandos moving through fields under cover of darkness and firing rounds after Operation Peace Spring was launched on Wednesday afternoon
Night vision footage shows the green flare of gunfire as the ‘hero’ commandos move through the rural Syrian border after the artillery and war planes decimated positions
Turkey says it intends to create a ‘safe zone’ that would push Kurdish militia away from its border and eventually allow the repatriation of up to two million Syrian refugees (pictured: a commando is seen rushing through long grass with his comrades as they fire rounds last night)
Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters enter the border town of Tel Abyad on Thursday morning as troops head south to claim Erdogan’s ‘safe zone’
Turkish Armed Forces’ howitzers deployed at the Syrian town of Tell Abyad, as part of Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring on Thursday
Terrified residents were seen fleeing on foot, by car and piling rickshaws high with their possessions as they left their homes – a grim echo of how they sought refuge from the Islamic State only a few years before (pictured: civilians pack into a truck as smoke billows in the background)
Civilians flee with their belongings amid Turkish bombardment on Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province on Wednesday evening
Men, women and children pack their belongings into vehicles as they prepare to flee their homes at the town of Ras al Ain last night
A man and two boys perch on top of their belongings packed into the back of a truck as they flee their homes on the Syrian border while smoke billows across the horizon
Girls stand together as a man hold onto a baby in the town of Ras al Ain in northern Syria which was pounded by shelling on Wednesday
A boy looks from a car as they prepare to leave after a mortar destroyed part of their house in Akcakale in Sanliurfa province last night
Turkish soldiers riding in a tank roll towards the Syrian border yesterday evening as the first ground troops prepared to pour into Kurdish territory over the border
Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad after Turkish bombings, in a picture taken from the Turkish side of the border near Akcakale in the Sanliurfa province
‘Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you,’ Erdogan said in a speech to parliament in Ankara on Thursday
Turkey says it intends to create a ‘safe zone’ over an area about 30 miles deep and 75 miles wide to push Kurdish militia away from its border and eventually allow the repatriation of up to two million Syrian refugees. The area is rich in fertile lands and encompasses oil fields in the far northeast
Turkey’s defence ministry said today they had struck 181 targets east of the Euphrates River since the incursion started.
This morning Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters were cheered as they rolled towards the border in armoured vehicles, heading for battlefronts where Kurdish fighters have dug in.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – formerly a key US ally in the fight against ISIS – said Turkish warplanes had caused ‘huge panic’ when they attacked the Kurdish-held territory, and claimed the bombardments had killed and wounded civilians.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter: ‘Turkish warplanes have started to carry out air strikes on civilian areas.’
Pictures and video footage from the ground appeared to show civilians desperately fleeing the area as clouds of smoke rose from the positions targeted by Turkish jets.
There were signs of terror in the streets of Ras al-Ayn- one of the Syrian towns under attack with residential areas close to the border.
Near the town of Qamishli, plumes of smoke rose from an area close to the border after activists reported explosions nearby.
Bali reported this morning that the SDF had repelled Turkish forces ground attacks. ‘No advance as of now,’ he tweeted.
Civilians carry their belongings over their head as they flee amid Turkish bombardment on Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province along the Turkish border last night
Cars pack the roads as civilians flee their homes as Turkey’s artillery and war planes descended on the border on Wednesday
Boys who have clambered onto the back of a truck as they prepare to move south to safety from the Turkish bombardment
A truck loaded with passengers queues with other vehicles as they flee the town of Ras al Ain while smoke from the shelling billows across the horizon
Long lines of cars travel away from the ferocious bombardment of Ras al Ayn on Wednesday afternoon
Who’s who in the conflict? Turkey views the 30million or so Kurds living inside its borders and in neighbouring Syria and Iraq as a potential threat to its unity
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that has activists throughout the country, said Turkish troops tried to push ahead on several fronts under the cover of airstrikes and artillery shelling but made no tangible progress.
The Observatory said that since Turkey began its operation, seven civilians have been killed.
CNN Turk broadcast video showing a crane overnight removing a concrete block from the border wall and commandos moving in single-file alongside the barrier.
In the Turkish border town of Akcakale, around 30 vehicles carrying Syrian rebels, many pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft machines drove along the main along the Turkish side of the border from Syria’s Tel Abyad.
They were accompanied by some 10 Turkish military armoured vehicles. It was not clear where they were heading. Earlier, a witness in Akcakale said volleys of rockets were fired from there across the border.
Turkish forces shelled targets near Ral al Ain on Thursday morning, and SDF fighters responded, a witness said.
The Turkish military has hit 181 targets of the Kurdish militia with its air force and artillery since the start of operation into northeast Syria, the ministry said.
Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters enter Tel Abyad from Turkish gate towards Syria in Akcakale in Sanliurfa province on Thursday
Syrian opposition fighters backed by Turkey enter Tel Abyad towards Syria in Akcakale in Sanliurfa province on Thursday – Turkey has launched a broad assault on Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria, with intensive bombardment followed by a ground offensive made possible by the withdrawal of US troops
Syrian opposition fighters backed by Ankara move towards Syria’s northern border on Thursday, a high calibre machine gun mounted on the back of their truck
Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters enter the Syrian town of Tel Abyad on the Turkish border as the push south to claim their ‘safe zone’
Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters enter the Syrian town of Tel Abyad – the town is part of a divided city, bordering with Akçakale in Turkey
Residents of Tel Abyad wave to Turkish-backed Syrian troops moving south into Kurdish territory on Thursday
Residents near the Syrian border, in Akcakale, wave to troops and take pictures of the armoured vehicles pouring south across the border on Thursday
Syrian National Army soldiers prepare to depart the Turkish border town of Akcakale and drive over the border into northern Syria
Turkish jet taxis on tarmac after returning to a military base in southeast Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey on Thursday
Turkey-backed Syrian National Army fighters rally at their trucks as they prepare to cross the border and engage the Turkish militia
Smoke rises after Turkish artillery continue their barrages on the border area of Tell Abyad on Thursday morning
Soldiers of the Syrian National Army mount their machine-gun truck as they prepare to advance on the Kurdish militia today
International reaction to the invasion
The European Union
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday: ‘I call on Turkey as well as the other actors to act with restraint and to stop operations already, as we are speaking, under way … I have to say if the Turkish plan involves the creation of a so-called safe zone, don’t expect the European Union to pay for any of it.’
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday Turkey had ‘legitimate security concerns’ and had informed NATO about its attack against Kurdish fighters in Syria.
‘I count on Turkey to act with restraint and ensure that any action it may take in northern Syria is proportionate and measured,’ he said after meeting Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. ‘It is important to avoid actions that may further destabilise the region, escalate tensions and cause more human suffering.’
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Turkey’s operation would lead to further destabilisation of the region and could strengthen Islamic State. He urged Turkey to end the operation.
France’s European affairs minister Amelie de Montchalin said France and Britain would call a U.N. Security Council meeting over the Turkish offensive. France, Germany and Britain are finalising a joint statement condemning the advance.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the operation risked destabilising the region and harming civilians.
Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod tweeted: ‘Deeply concerned about Turkish military operation in Syria. In my view, this is a regrettable and wrong decision, which can have serious consequences for civilians and the fight against ISIL (Islamic State).’
Russian President Vladimir Putin urged his Turkish counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to ‘think carefully’ before taking any action.
Erdogan for his part told Putin that the offensive ‘will contribute to Syria’s peace and stability and ease the path to a political solution’.
‘I call on Turkey not to follow the path it has chosen,’ Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said.
‘No one can benefit from the potentially terrible humanitarian consequences. The operation can trigger new refugee flows and harm the fight against IS and stability in the region.’
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he had ‘serious concerns’ about Turkey’s military action.
He said: ‘This risks destabilising the region, exacerbating humanitarian suffering, and undermining the progress made against Daesh which should be our collective focus.’
Iran on Thursday called for an ‘immediate halt’ to the Turkish Syria offensive.
One of the prisons where Islamic State detainees are held was hit by a Turkish air strike, the SDF said on Twitter.
The Turkish border town of Akcakale was quiet for much of the morning after sporadic gunfire and the sound of tank movement were heard in the early hours, Reuters journalists said. Explosions just over the border had rocked the town of Tel Abyad earlier in the night, they said.
Turkey regards the Kurdish militia as a terrorist group because of its links to Kurdish PKK militants waging a decades-old insurgency in southeast Turkey.
Troops have entered Syria at four points, two of them close to Tel Abyad and two close to Ras al Ain further east, according to Turkish media reports. Air strikes killed at least five civilians and three SDF fighters, while dozens of civilians were wounded, the SDF said. Thousands of people fled Ras al Ain towards Hasaka province, held by the SDF.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said the group’s fighters had repelled a ground attack by Turkish troops in Tel Abyad.
Tanks and troops had been massing on the border since Trump announced that American troops would step aside.
Hours after the assault was launched, President Trump tweeted that US troops should ‘never have been’ in the Middle East in the first place.
In Damascus, Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad warned that the Assad government ‘will defend all Syrian territory and will not accept any occupation of any land or iota of the Syrian soil’.
Earlier, Turkish television reports said Turkish jets had bombed Syrian Kurdish positions across the border from Turkey.
In the face of the onslaught, Kurdish authorities announced a general mobilisation, 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 tyres to set alight to blur the vision of Turkish military pilots.
Ras al-Ain was one of the places from which US troops withdrew on Monday.
‘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.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Wednesday he had ‘serious concerns’ about Turkey’s military action.
He said: ‘This risks destabilising the region, exacerbating humanitarian suffering, and undermining the progress made against Daesh which should be our collective focus.
‘Turkey has shown considerable generosity in hosting so many Syrian refugees.
‘But we will not support plans for returns until the conditions are in place for a voluntary and safe return home.’
Smoke rises from Tel Arkam village in the Ras al Ain countryside on Thursday as Turkey continues its offensive into the border territory
Turkish Armed Forces’ military vehicles moving, at Syrian border in Akcakale district of Turkey’s Sanliurfa province on Thursday
Smoke rises from the Syrian village of Tel Arkam on Thursday as fresh barrages rain down on the northern border today
Members of Turkey-backed Syrian National Army wave as they are on the way to northern Syria for a military operation in Kurdish areas, near the Syrian border, in Akcakale
Syrian National Army members toll towards the border on Thursday as they join their comrades in the Turkish army as part of the operation
Smoke rises after howitzers of Turkish Armed Forces batter targets this morning in Tell Abyad as part of Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring
Turkish soldiers stand guard near the Turkey Syrian border on Thursday as their comrades flood into the neighbouring country today
Turkish armoured vehicles escort members of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army as they enter Syria today
Members of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army roll towards the northern border of their homeland, with a machine gun mounted on the back of their truck
Turkish armoured vehicles escort members of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army on Thursday as forces are mustered at the border
A military lorry carrying two tanks rolls towards the Syrian border in Hatay province, Turkey, on Thursday as the ground assault takes shape
Members of Syrian National Army and Turkish Armed Forces move from Akcakale district of Sanliurfa to enter the territory east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria on Thursday
Turkish soldiers stand guard at Akcakale, on the Turkish side of the border, a short distance from Tell Abaid in Syria amid reports that a small force had moved into the country
Turkish Armed Forces’ armoured vehicles and armoured personnel carriers were seen in convoy towards the Syrian border at Turkey’s Hatay yesterday
Civilians ride a pickup truck as smoke billows following Turkish bombardment in the northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in Syria’s Hasakeh province along the Turkish border on Wednesday
Turkish commandos in armoured vehicles were seen travelling towards the Syrian border on Wednesday as they are being dispatched to support border units in Hatay, Turkey
Turkish Army’s armoured tanks artillery fire as Turkish troops along with the Syrian National Army begin Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria on Wednesday
Prior to the invasion Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, two of the four British ISIS soldiers known as the ‘Beatles’ were taken into US custody.
There were fears the men would escape from Syrian jail after a Turkish invasion.
They beheaded seven American, British and Japanese journalists and aid workers and a group of Syrian soldiers, boasting of the butchery in videos released to the world.
Erdogan tweeted yesterday that his armed forces along with the Syrian National Army had launched ‘Operation Peace Spring’ to ‘prevent the creation of a terror corridor’ along the Turkish border.
Smoke rises at the site of Ras al-Ayn city of Syria as Turkish troops along with the Syrian National Army begin Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria
Turkish Armed Forces’ armoured vehicles and armored personnel carriers, carrying Turkish commandos move towards to Turkey’s Syrian border as they are being dispatched to support the units at the border, in Kilis yesterday
A woman walking as smoke billows behind her following Turkish bombardment in the northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in Syria’s Hasakeh province along the Turkish border yesterday
From the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria on Wednesday, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke billowed from a fire inside Syria during bombardment by Turkish forces
Large explosions rocked Ras al Ain, just across the border from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar. The sound of planes could he heard above and smoke was rising from buildings in Ras al Ain
A Turkish army’s tank drives down from a truck as Turkish armed forces drive towards the border with Syria near Akcakale in Sanliurfa province on Tuesday night
He added the aim to is to eliminate threats from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and the Islamic State militants, and enable the return of Syrian refugees in Turkey after the formation of a ‘safe zone’ in the area.
The Turkish president wrote on Twitter: ‘Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area. We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists.’
A Turkish official confirmed the military action after explosions rocked the town of Ras al Ain in northeast Syria, on the border with Turkey.
Earlier yesterday Syria vowed to respond to a planned Turkish invasion of the northeast of the country, saying it condemned Ankara’s ‘hostile intentions’.
The Syrian foreign ministry said the ‘hostile actions’ of the Turkish government revealed its ‘expansionist ambitions,’ saying an attack on Syrian territory ‘could not be justified’ and pledged to ‘confront a Turkish assault’.
The United Nations Security Council will meet on Thursday to discuss Syria at the request of the five European members, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland.
In a letter to the 15-member Council seen by Reuters, Turkey said that its military operation would be ‘proportionate, measured and responsible.’
The 22-member Arab League said it will hold an emergency meeting on Saturday.
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.
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.