The Turkish military operation into Syria has been launched today with airstrikes targeting ISIS and Kurdish forces, with reports suggested two civilians were killed in the attacks.
This afternoon Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his offensive into northern Syria had begun in a bid to ‘bring peace to the area’ by targeting ‘terrorists’.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Turkish warplanes struck its region in the northeast, sparking ‘huge panic among people’ today.
Mustafa Bali, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesman, said on Twitter: ‘Turkish warplanes have started to carry out air strikes on civilian areas.’
Pictured and video footage from the ground appeared to show civilians desperately fleeing the area as smoke rose from bombed positions.
Kurds living near the border said civilians were hurt in the attack, according to reports, which said at least two people were killed.
Syrian state media and a Kurdish official separately said bombing hit the town of Ras al-Ain in the northeast along the Turkish border that will be supported by artillery and howitzer fire.
Earlier, Turkish television reports said Turkish jets had bombed Syrian Kurdish positions across the border from Turkey.
Smoke rises at the site Ras al-Ayn city as Turkish troops along with the Syrian National Army begin Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria against PKK/YPG and ISIS
Turkish Army’s fighter jet takes off from 8th Main Jet Base in Diyarbakir, Turkey today as Turkish troops along with the Syrian National Army begin Operation Peace Spring
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 Army’s armoured tanks artillery fire as Turkish troops along with the Syrian National Army begin Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria today
Civilians were seen fleeing from bombed positions along the Turkey/Syria border today as President Erdogan launched airstrikes on the region
Video footage showed civilians fleeing as smoke rose from bombs dropped by Turkish warplanes. Kurds living in the area reported that some civilians were injured in the attacks
A Turkish military convoy is pictured in Kilis near the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey, today. Truck and tanks were seen on the border overnight ahead of a planned invasion by Ankara
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. A pictured of Turkish field marshal Atatürk hangs behind him
Erdogan tweeted today 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.
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 today 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’.
Turkish troops crossed into Syria earlier today in preparation for an imminent attack on Kurdish territory, an official claimed.
Turkish Army’s cargo plane seen in Diyarbakir, Turkey, today as President Erdogan launched his offensive into northern Syria
Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Turkish warplanes struck its region in the northeast, sparking ‘huge panic among people’ today. Pictured smoke rising after a Turkish airstrike
A photo taken from Turkey’s Sanliurfa province today showing smoke rises as Turkish troops along with the Syrian National Army moved into northern Syria to target the PKK/YPG and ISIS
Civilians leaving in trucks as Turkish planes bombarded Syrian border towns today. President Erdogan announced the launch of Operation Peace Spring as his troops moved into the area
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his offensive into northern Syria had begun in a bid to ‘bring peace to the area’ by targeting terrorists by launching airstrikes in
Turkish Armed Forces’ armoured vehicles amassed on the Turkish side of the border with Syria today ahead of a planned invasion of the northeast of the war-torn country
International reaction to Turkish strikes on Syria:
The European Union
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker demanded Turkey halt its military operation against Kurdish militants in northern Syria on Wednesday, telling Ankara the bloc would not pay for any so-called ‘safe zone.’
‘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,’ Juncker said.
‘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 chief Jens Stoltenberg said he hoped Turkey’s operations in Syria would be measured and proportionate.
Stoltenberg today urged Turkey to show ‘restraint’ in its operation against Kurdish forces in Syria, warning that the fight against the Islamic State group should not be put at risk.
‘I count on Turkey to act with restraint & ensure that the gains we have made in the fight against ISIS are not jeopardised. I will discuss this issue with President Erdogan Friday,’ Stoltenberg said.
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).
‘Turkey must show restraint. Denmark is in close contact with allies on the matter.’
Two expeditionary forces entered Syria close to the towns of Tell Abiad and Sari Kani early in the morning in preparation for a broader offensive, the official told Bloomberg.
Another official later denied that the military operation had begun, but said preparations are still underway.
It comes after tanks, trucks, troops and supplies were pictured massing on the border overnight.
President Trump later tweeted that the US should have never used troops in the Middle East and referenced the failed bid to find Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction as the premise for the Iraq war under President George W. Bush as a reason for the US withdrawal from northern Syria.
Trump said he is ‘slowly and carefully’ bringing soldiers home from the Middle East, ending US involvement in what he described as the ‘worst mistake’ in the nation’s history and winding down nearly two decades of American warfare.
Trump told his detractors that culling bloodshed by US soldiers is the ‘BIG PICTURE’. He said it’s up to regional forces, now, to kill, capture and prosecute the remaining terrorists.
He declared in cap-filled tweets: ‘USA should never have been in Middle East.’
Trump wrote: ‘The United States has spent EIGHT TRILLION DOLLARS fighting and policing in the Middle East. Thousands of our Great Soldiers have died or been badly wounded. Millions of people have died on the other side. GOING INTO THE MIDDLE EAST IS THE WORST DECISION EVER MADE…..
‘….IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY! We went to war under a false & now disproven premise, WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. There were NONE! Now we are slowly & carefully bringing our great soldiers & military home. Our focus is on the BIG PICTURE! THE USA IS GREATER THAN EVER BEFORE!’
He later retweeted a message criticising Republicans opposing Trumps withdrawal from Syria, adding: ‘True. Should have never been there in the first place!’
Senator Lindsey Graham vowed today that Congress will inflict a cost on Turkey for its offensive against Syria’s Kurds as the usually loyal ally of President Donald Trump sharply criticised US policy.
‘Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration. This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS. Will lead effort in Congress to make Erdogan pay a heavy price,’ the senior Republican tweeted, referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Turkish leader declared an offensive against US-allied Kurdish fighters who effectively control northeastern Syria after a telephone conversation with Trump, who promised to withdraw US troops serving as a buffer.
‘I urge President Trump to change course while there is still time by going back to the safe zone concept that was working,’ said Graham
Damascus today said it ‘is determined and willing to confront a Turkish assault using all legitimate means,’ said a foreign ministry statement carried by state news agency SANA, condemning Ankara’s ‘hawkish statements, hostile intentions…and military build-up’ along the border.
It said it held ‘some Kurdish groups [in Syria] responsible’ for the current situation on the border, but would still be ready to ’embrace’ them if they decide to return to the fold.
Two small Turkish expeditionary forces entered Syria near the towns of Tell Abaid and Sar Kani early on Wednesday morning, an official claimed, ahead of a major assault (centre). Meanwhile Syrian rebels allied with Turkey were pictured massing the forces in the area around Aleppo (left). Turkey also launched an airstrike overnight Monday on a crossing point between Iraq and Syria to stop Kurdish troops resupplying (right). It comes after Donald Trump told Turkish President Erdogan that US forces would stand aside and allow him to take control of regional security
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 today
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 today
Turkish commandos in armoured vehicles were seen travelling towards the Syrian border today as they are being dispatched to support border units in Hatay, Turkey
Kurdish commanders have warned of an ‘impending humanitarian disaster’ if the attack goes ahead, while begging world leaders for help.
It comes after President Trump handed control of regional security to Turkey during a phone call on Sunday with President Erdogan.
Despite the incursion into Syrian territory, Russia said it will not get involved in the conflict between Turkey and Syria after Ankara launched an operation in Syria’s northeast.
Russia’s military is in Syria for different reasons, but President Vladimir Putin told his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan by phone today to avoid any steps in Syria that could damage its peace process, the Kremlin said, as Turkey started its operation in northeastern Syria.
The Turkish military offensive in Syria can be construed as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty, Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy chair of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of parliament, was quoted in the Russian media as saying.
Turkey called on Europe today to take back their citizens who have been captured as jihadists in Syria, an issue that has also angered Trump and was reiterated by the president as he announced the US withrawal.
Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for the Turkish presidency, told the BBC that President Trump, ‘was right about this. They [European countries] should take them, try them and follow the due judicial process’.
Kurdish leaders also issued a call to civilians to join the military on Wednesday morning and ‘do your duty’.
A statement issued by the SDF on Wednesday said: ‘The border areas of northeast Syria are on the edge of a possible humanitarian catastrophe.
‘All indications, field information and military build-up on the Turkish side of the border indicate that our border areas will be attacked by Turkey in cooperation with Syrian opposition tied to Turkey.
‘This attack will spill the blood of thousands of innocent civilians because our border areas are overcrowded.
‘Accordingly we call on the international community and all countries of the international coalition who fought together and triumphed together over the so-called ISIS Caliphate to carry out their responsibilities and avoid a possible impending humanitarian disaster.’
The statement was released shortly before the Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria called up civilians to defend the region against an attack.
‘We announce three days of general mobilisation in northern and eastern Syria,’ it said, urging all civilians to ‘head to the border with Turkey to fulfil their duty.’
Soldiers patrol the border ahead of an anticipated attack to extend Turkish control of more of northern Syria, a large swath of which is currently held by Syrian Kurds, whom Turkey regards as a threat
A wall separating Turkey from Syria is seen behind a Turkish soldier who stands guard in Akcakale, close to where an expeditionary force is said to have crossed into Syria early on Wednesday
Two small expeditionary forces of Turkish troops moved into northern Syria on Wednesday morning, an official claimed, ahead of a much larger invasion (pictured, a tank near the border overnight)
The SDF begged world leaders for help to avoid ‘thousands of innocent civilians’ being killed as Turkey prepared for a wide-scale invasion (pictured, troops on the Turkish side of the border)
A Turkish officer sits atop this tank as it movers to its new position on the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria
A truck carrying two armoured vehicles makes its way towards the border crossing between Turkey and Syria overnight
Turkey has said President Trump gave assurances to President Erdogan during a phone call that security in Syria would be fully handed over to their control
Vehicles carrying the members of Free Syrian Army, a Turkish-backed rebel group, patrol in the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria Wednesday
In the early part of the eight-year-old civil war in Syria, Kurdish forces took control of Kurdish-majority areas of the the north and east and set up their own autonomous institutions.
When the Islamic State group swept across the region in 2014, they mounted a fierce defence of their heartland and became the US-led coalition’s main military partner on the ground.
Ankara strongly opposed Washington’s support for Kurdish forces in Syria citing their links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has fought a deadly insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Damascus rejects Kurdish self-rule and wants central government institutions restored in Kurdish-held areas.
The Kurds want protection from the long-threatened Turkish offensive.
Weakened by Washington’s decision to withdraw most of its troops following the capture of the last vestige of IS’s ‘caliphate’ in March, the Kurdish-led alliance has opened talks with Damascus.
But the negotiations have yet to bear fruit.
Turkey has already carried out two cross-border offensives into Syria, including one in 2018 that saw it and allied Syria rebels overrun the majority Kurdish Afrin enclave in the northwest.
Many Syrians displaced by fighting elsewhere in the country have fled to the Aleppo region in the hopes of seeking shelter there.
According to data collected by Global Shelter Cluster, which is leading relief efforts in Syria, there are currently some 600,000 people receiving aid in the Aleppo region – of which 140,000 are almost entirely reliant on aid for survival.
In the event of an invasion of northern Syria by Turkey, Aleppo is where the majority of the initial fighting would take place.
Turkey has announced plans to create a ‘peace corridor’ along its border with Syria by wiping out ‘terrorists’ – by which it means the SDF.
Turkish Army’s armored military vehicles and heavy duty machines are being dispatched to the Syrian border ahead of Turkey’s planned operation
Local residents jeer and applaud as a convoy of Turkish forces vehicles and trucks carrying tanks and armoured personnel carriers is driven towards the Syrian border
Turkish army soldiers drive towards the border with Syria near Akcakale in Sanliurfa province overnight Tuesday
A Turkish army’s tank drives down from a truck as Turkish armed forces drive towards the border with Syria
Turkish Army’s military vehicles and heavy duty machines are being dispatched to the Syrian border, and began crossing early Wednesday
Fahrettin Altun, spokesman for the Turkish government, said Tuesday night that the operation would begin ‘shortly’ and ordered SDF units to stand aside.
‘The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army, will cross the Turkish-Syrian border shortly,’ he tweeted.
Previous Turkish incursions into Syria
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.
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.
‘YPG militants have two options: They can defect or we will have stop them from disrupting our counter-ISIS efforts.’
Ankara says the creation of a safe zone will allow for the return of Syrian refugees in Turkey, and create greater regional stability.
However, observers warn fresh conflict along the border will destabilise the region and likely lead to an ISIS resurgence as the SDF diverts forces to fight the Turks.
Overnight the SDF reported three suicide bomb attacks in Raqqa, the defacto capital of ISIS’s self-declared Caliphate, by sleeper cells which had activated in the city.
Early on Wednesday the group tweeted: ‘Daesh takes advantage of Imminent Turkish invasion.
‘Three ISIS suicide bombings on our military positions in Raqqa, clashes still ongoing.’
Daesh is a derogatory Arabic term for ISIS.
While previous plans for a ‘peace corridor’ outlined by Erdogan at the United Nations called for it to extend 20 miles into Syrian territory, Altun suggested on Tuesday night that it could go far beyond this.
If Turkish forces were allowed to spread their reach to the Raqqa-Dier Ezzor line – he wrote in the Washington Post – then it would allow them to resettle some 3million refugees, including 1million currently in Europe.
Extending Turkish control that far into Syria would mean taking control of almost all the territory that Kurdish forces now control.
Describing Kurdish fighters as ‘armed thugs’, Altun said their forces threaten the existence of the Turkish state, and must be eliminated.
Turkey-backed members of Syrian National Army prepare for moving to Turkey for an expected military operation by Turkey into Kurdish areas of northern Syria
Turkey-backed members of Syrian National Army riding in machine gun-mounted trucks yesterday as troops amassed along the Turkish-Syria border
The Syrian National Army preparing for military operations. Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from the area of northeastern Syria ahead of the anticipated military action by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Syrian National Army soldiers preparing to move to Turkey for an expected military operation by Turkey into Kurdish areas of northern Syria yesterday, in Azas near Turkish border with Syria
Members of Turkey-backed Syrian National Army (former FSA) flash the V-sign as they drive back to Turkey after they went in for some time on inspection according to the Turkish police entourage in the same area at the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, Turkey
Members Turkish Armed Forces and Syrian National Army (SNA) patrolling at the Syrian border in Akcakale today
Members of Syrian National Army (SNA) hold up patches as they make observations with Turkish Armed Forces at the Syrian border in Akcakale district of Turkey’s Sanliurfa today
Trump has faced a fierce political backlash after he agreed to withdraw US troops from Syria during a routine phone call with President Erdogan on Sunday.
Efforts are now underway in Congress to block the troop withdrawal including from Senate Republicans led by Lindsay Graham.
Tweeting at Turkey’s leadership on Tuesday night, he said: ‘You do NOT have a green light to enter into northern Syria.
‘There is massive bipartisan opposition in Congress, which you should see as a red line you should not cross.’
Of particular concern are prison camps holding some 15,000 ISIS fighters that would fall into Turkey’s hands if it seizes border areas that the SDF currently controls, including the notorious Al-Hawl camp.
Within these camps are 2,500 foreign ISIS jihadis, largely from Europe, which Turkey would then become responsible for detaining.
There are fears that this would give Ankara leverage over European leaders and security on the continent, since Turkey is one of the primary routes for ISIS fighters returning to Europe.
Trump has attempted to defend his position by saying that he will crash the Turkish economy in the event of any ‘unforced or unnecessary fighting’.
He also denied abandoning the Kurds, pointing out that the country has a large Kurdish population – including a separatist which the government has been fighting against for decades.
Turkey wants to create what it calls a ‘safe zone’ in a stretch of territory along its southern border with Syria that is currently controlled by Syrian Kurdish fighters, known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.
Turkey considers the YPG as terrorists affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a 35-year-long battle against the Turkish state. Ankara also views the YPG-controlled zone as an ‘existential threat’.
Erdogan has demanded a ‘safe zone’ that is 20 miles deep and stretches more than 300 miles toward the Iraqi border.
Donald Trump has denied abandoning the Kurds and has threatened to crash Turkey’s economy in the event of ‘unforced or unnecessary fighting’
Hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrian civilians, including disabled veterans of the war against ISIS, currently live in SDF territory in northern Syria (pictured)
Donald Trump has denied abandoning the Kurds after agreeing to hand over regional security to Turkey, but has been unable to provide concrete guarantees they will not be attacked
Kurdish forces led the fight against ISIS with support from an international coalition headed by the US, but are now facing the prospect of having that support suddenly withdrawn
Fighters and veterans from the Kurdish women’s protection units (YPJ) and the people’s protection units (YPG) march in Qamishli, which is one of the targets for the Turkish assault
The Syrian government – which the US has attempted to topple – has called on the Kurds (pictured) to switch allegiance to their side if America withdraws its support
There are almost 600,000 displaced people in northern Syria currently receiving aid, with the majority of those around Aleppo where early fighting would take place
President Erdogan has outlined plans to create a ‘peace corridor’ in northern Syria in order to resettle some 2million refugees currently in Turkey
How Turkey’s expected invasion of Syria would threaten the Kurds who defeated ISIS
What is Turkey’s troubled history 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.
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’.
He initially had hoped to do it in collaboration with the United States but grew frustrated with what he considered to be delaying tactics by the U.S.
Once secured, Turkey wants to resettle the area with 2 million Syrian refugees who fled to Turkey due to the conflict in their home country.
How such a massive resettlement would be carried out is unclear. Human rights groups have warned that any escalation of fighting in the area could displace hundreds of thousands more people.
Erdogan has spoken of plans to build towns, villages, hospitals and schools but also says Turkey, which has already spent some $40 billion on the refugees, cannot afford to do it alone.
He has said he will convene a donors conference to help meet the cost and has called on European nations to share the burden, warning that Turkey could be forced to open the ‘gates’ for an influx of migrants to Western nations.
Turkey has carried out two previous incursions into northern Syria in recent years with the help of Syrian rebels.
In the first offensive in 2016, Turkey pushed back Islamic State group militants west of the Euphrates River.
In the second operation last year, Turkey captured the Syrian-Kurdish controlled enclave of Afrin.
Those regions are currently administered by Turkish-backed opposition groups who run them as virtual Turkish-administered towns.
Analysts say this operation would likely be more complicated.
The SDF says ISIS has already launched three suicide attacks in Raqqa, the group’s former capital, in expectation of a Turkish assault
If Turkey claims all the territory currently held by the SDF then it will become responsible for between 10,000 and 15,000 ISIS fighters – 2,500 of whom are foreign-born (pictured, an SDF soldiers guards ISIS prisoners)
The SDF is also responsible for guarding the notorious Al-Hawl prison camp, where many captured ISIS wives and their children are being held (pictured)
Unwilling to let go of an area they wrested from the Islamic State group, the battle-hardened Kurdish fighters – trained and equipped by the U.S. – have vowed to fight the Turks until the end.
‘It’s a huge area for the Turkish military to go into and clearly there will be resistance on the part of the (Syrian Kurdish forces),’ said Bulent Aliriza, of the director of the Turkey Project at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Aliriza suggested the operation may be a limited one that does not stretch all the way to the Iraqi border.
‘That’s what we are going to look at first. How deep and how broad is it, whether it’s all the way across from the Iraqi border to the Euphrates, or just limited to two or three penetration points,’ he said.
Critics of Trump’s decision fear a Turkish operation could have destabilizing consequences for the region, while both Democrats and Republicans have warned that a Turkish attack could lead to a massacre of the Kurds, who are holding thousands of captured IS fighters and their families.
One of the big question marks surrounding Turkey’s plans is whether fighting the Syrian Kurdish forces would allow IS to make a comeback.
Turkey insists that the global battle against the militants won’t suffer, and points to its 2016 incursion, which drove away IS from another border region.
But Kurdish officials have warned that they would have to divert their forces away from guarding IS prisoners in case of a Turkish assault.
The White House has said Turkey will take over responsibility for the imprisoned fighters, but it is unclear how that would happen, if it all.
Erdogan says Turkey and the United States are working separately on plans to repatriate foreign fighters held in Kurdish prisons.
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.