Donald Trump has suggested that Kurdish fighters are releasing imprisoned ISIS jihadists to bait the United States into remaining involved in northeastern Syria.
The President spoke out after more than 800 ISIS followers – largely wives and children of fighters – escaped from a prison camp near Ain Issa at the weekend after the Kurds said Turkish forces bombed the camp.
However, Trump hinted that the Kurds – America’s closest ally in the country until he ordered US forces to withdraw – were instead to blame.
Meanwhile Turkish President Erdogan vowed to continue his offensive in northern Syria ‘no matter what’, despite the threat of sanctions from the US and EU, saying he would only stop ‘when ultimate victory is achieved’.
That is despite Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Army, backed by Russia, rolling tanks and troops up to the front lines after striking a deal to help defend the Kurds defend themselves in return for control of some of their territory.
In a deal hammered out Sunday night, Assad will be given control of Kobane and Manbij in return for uniting against Turkey.
Turkey’s President Erdogan has said his troops are ready to attack Manbij even as Assad’s forces arrived in the area (pictured, a Syrian government tank, reportedly in Manbij) raising the prospect that the two sides will fight for the first time
A Syrian army tank (right) was shown rolling into Manbij on Monday, hours after Assad struck a deal with the Kurds to help defend them in return for territory
Syrian government forces have begun moving into Kurdish territory to defend against a Turkish invasion of northern Syria after striking a deal with the former US allies. It comes as Turkey said it is ready to attack Manbij, one of the towns where Assad has stationed tanks
Donald Trump has suggested the the Kurds may be releasing ISIS prisoners deliberately to get the US back into the conflict in Syria, though the Kurds say President Erdogna’s men are deliberately bombing prison camps in order to free the jihadis
Trump also threatened to level big sanctions against Turkey over its attacks on the Kurds, despite giving President Erdogan permission to move into the region himself
President Trump spoke out after more than 800 ISIS terrorists – mainly wives and children of fighters – escaped from a prison camp at Ain Issa (pictured) at the weekend, after guards left to fight the oncoming Turkish army
In return for providing security, the Kurds have agreed to hand over control of the border towns of Manbij (pictured, Turkish tanks near the town) and Kobane, ending five years of autonomous rule
Turkish soldiers drive American-made M60 tanks in the town of Tukhar, north of Syria’s northern city of Manbij, as Turkey and its regional allies fight against Kurdish forces in the area
Soldiers riding on top of a tank carry the Syrian national flag, a symbol of the government’s army, into Manbij province as they arrive in defence of the Kurds
President Trump tweeted Monday: ‘Kurds may be releasing some to get us involved. Easily recaptured by Turkey or European Nations from where many came, but they should move quickly,’ he tweeted.
Turkish state media has repeatedly denied Kurdish allegations that its planes and artillery have been bombing ISIS prison camps in order to help fighters escape, and has pointed the finger of blame at the Kurds instead.
On Monday the two sides appeared primed for their first confrontation as Erdogan suggested an attack on Manbij was imminent, while Assad’s tanks were filmed rolling into the area.
The battle would mark a significant shift in the regional balance of power because Assad is backed by Russia and Iran, which until now had been firm allies of Turkey over Syria.
It would also mark the first time that Kurdish forces have fought alongside the Russian-backed Syrian government, after previously allying with America until Donald Trump suddenly withdrew US forces from the region.
Asked about the possibility of a direct confrontation between Russian and Turkish forces, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin ‘wouldn’t even like to think about that scenario’.
Erdogan, who is now facing sanctions from Trump over his attacks on the Kurds, said Turkey’s aim will be to return Manbij to Arab populations whom he said where its rightful owners.
Speaking ahead of a visit to Azerbaijan, Erdogan said Turkey would implement its plans for Manbij and settle Arabs there, after an agreement with Washington last year for YPG fighters to leave the town fell through.
‘Our agreement with the United States was for the terrorist organisations to clear Manbij in 90 days,’ he said, referring to the YPG.
‘However, a year has passed and Manbij has not been cleared,’ Erdogan told reporters at the airport in Istanbul.
Kurdish forces do a deal with Assad
Kurdish forces have agreed to allow Bashar al-Assad’s troops to occupy their territory in exchange for helping to repel an invasion by Turkey that was sparked when Donald Trump suddenly withdrew US troops.
Direct conflict between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian Arab Army has been rare during the country’s seven-year civil war, but until now they have found themselves on opposite sides of the fight against ISIS as the Kurds were backed by the US and Assad was supported by Russia.
However, after Trump dropped American support for the Kurds and handed over control of regional security to Turkey – which considers Kurdish militias to be terrorists – they have been forced to seek support elsewhere.
As part of the deal, brokered by Russia, the SDF agreed to hand over control of the border towns of Manbij and Kobane which it has ruled over for the last seven years in exchange for help battling Erdogan’s troops.
However, as the conflict deepens it is likely that Assad’s forces will occupy much of the territory now ruled by the Kurds as part of a defence force, and will be loathe to hand it back once the fighting is done.
The deal means one of America’s closest allies in the region is now fighting with assistance from Russia,and marks a big win for Assad in his attempts to regain complete control of Syria.
The deal also pits Russia and Iran, which back Assad, against Turkey, despite the three countries spending months putting on a united front in the region.
‘We, as Turkey, will not go into Manbij when it’s emptied. The real owners of that area, the Arabs, and the tribes who are the true owners of that will go there. Our approach on this is for them to be settled there and to provide their security,’ he added.
Asked about the deal struck between the Kurdish forces and Damascus, Erdogan said that he did not expect any problems to emerge in the town of Kobane and added that Russian President Vladimir Putin had a ‘positive approach.’
‘There are many rumours at the moment. However, especially through the embassy and with the positive approach of Russia in Kobani, it appears there won’t be any issues,’ he said, without elaborating.
America ordered its final 1,000 troops to withdraw from Syria ‘as quickly and safely as possible’ on Sunday in the face of the Turkish advance, amid fears they will be accidentally targeted by Turkish artillery and airstrikes.
A tweet by SANA, the Syrian army’s news agency, on Monday said forces had entered the town of Tall Tamr and were ready ‘to confront Turkish aggression’.
The Kurdish administration said in a statement on its Facebook page: ‘In order to prevent and confront this aggression, an agreement has been reached with the Syrian government… so that the Syrian army can deploy along the Syrian-Turkish border to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).’
In their statement the Kurds said that the agreement struck with the Damascus government ‘paves the way to liberate the rest of the Syrian cities occupied by the Turkish army such as Afrin’, a majority Kurdish enclave in the northwest.
Turkey’s attacks have been heavily condemned by European leaders, with France – which has special forces stationed in Syria among the most vociferous critics.
On Monday French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced he will not to attend Monday’s match between the French and Turkish football teams in Paris.
Le Drian had previously planned to be at the game, said the minister’s department.
Turkish-backed Syrian rebels haul down a Kurdish flag that had been flying over a town on the outskirts of Tel Abaid after seizing control of the border city
Rebels from the Syrian National Army (also known as the Free Syrian Amry), a Turkish-backed rebel group, raise their flag above a town on the outskirts of Tel Abaid
Syrian government troops arrive in Ain Issa, where the ISIS prison break took place, on Monday as they reinforce Kurdish troops fighting in nearby Tel Abaid
Soldiers loyal to Bashar al-Assad roll into Ain Issa, in northern Syria, close to the border town of Tel Abaid where heavy fighting has taken place between Turkey and the Kurds
Locals welcoming Syrian government forces as they enter the northern town of Ain Issa after they were allowed to enter the territory as part of a deal with the Kurds
Members of Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army, a militant group active in parts of northwest Syria, heading toward Syrian town of Tal Abiad as they continue their assault against the Kurds
Turkish-backed Syrian fighters speak with people after withdrawing from the front line back into Turkish territory
Turkish military vehicles carrying armoured personal carriers head toward the Syrian town of Tal Abaid near the border
Turkey moved its forces into northern Syria last week after Donald Trump agreed to withdraw US troops and hand over control of regional security to Ankara
French officials are planning to step up security ahead of this evening’s European Championship game in the Stade de France between the two countries, following the condemnation by France and the European Union of the Turkish offensive.
Meanwhile Jens Stoltenberg, chief of NATO which Turkey is a member of, also criticised the offensive – saying it risks creating further instability in the region.
‘We see a very unstable situation in Syria,’ he said on a visit to London on Monday. ‘We see human suffering… I expressed deep concerns when I was in Istanbul.’
In the past five days, Turkish troops and their allies have pushed into northern towns and villages, clashing with the Kurdish fighters over a stretch of 200 125 miles.
The offensive has displaced at least 130,000 people.
Abandoned in the middle of the battlefield, the Kurds turned to Assad and Russia for protection and announced Sunday night that Syrian government troops would be deployed in Kurdish-controlled towns and villages along the border with Turkey to help repel Turkish advances.
‘We are going back to our normal positions that are at the border,’ said a Syrian officer, as embattled Kurdish authorities invited the government to retake towns and villages in the north.
Syrian troops arrived Monday in the northern province of Raqqa aboard buses and pickup trucks with mounted machine guns.
Bashar al-Assad has deployed Syrian government troops (pictured) to the town of Tal Tamr, around 20 miles from Sari Kani (also known as Ras al-Ain) where heavy fighting occurred between Turkey and Kurdish forces at the weekend
Syrian regime forces are pictured as they patrol a street on the western entrance of the town of Tal Tamr after being sent there to ‘combat Turkish aggression’
Syrian regime forces moved towards the Turkish border Monday after Damascus reached a deal with beleaguered Kurdish forces following a US withdrawal announcement
An image released by the Syrian Arab Army shows its troops in Tal Tamr on Monday – territory which was formerly occupied by Kurdish forces
Syrian government troops were moved close to the border after Russia helped strike a deal between Assad and the Kurds to provide protection against the Turkish invasion
Assad’s forces published images showing their troops being welcomed by Kurdish locals after American suddenly withdrew from the region, paving the way for Turkey to attack
A man greets a Syrian army soldier in the town of Tel Tamer in northeast Syria, in pictures taken by Assad’s troops
A Syrian army soldier sits at a back of a truck in the town of Tell Tamr in northeast Syria on Monday
A woman gestures as a Syrian army soldier stands on a back of a truck in the town of Tell Tamr in northeast Syria
Troops moved into the towns of Tal Tamr, 12 miles from the Turkish border, Ein Issa and Tabqa, known for its dam on the Euphrates River and a nearby air base of the same name.
The government deployment sets up a potential clash between Turkey and Syria and raises the specter of a resurgent Islamic State group as the U.S. relinquishes any remaining influence in northern Syria to Assad and his chief backer, Russia.
Turkey has pressed on with its invasion of northern Syria, warning its NATO allies in Europe and the United States not to stand in its way.
The European Union unanimously condemned Turkey’s military move and asked all 28 of its member states to stop selling arms to Ankara, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told The Associated Press.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russian and Turkish officials have remained in close contact.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled his military was ready to launch an assault on the Kurdish-held region of Manbij, on the western flank of the Euphrates.
Medics carry people wounded in Turkish air strikes into a hospital in Tal Tamr, which is now under the protection of Syrian Arab Army troops
Tal Tamr, which is 20 miles from the border town of Sari Kani (also known as Ras al-Ain), has seen some of the fiercest fighting of the campaign so far
Medics carry wounded civilians injured in an alleged Turkish airstrike at a hospital in Tal Tamr, northeastern of Syria
Images of the attack showed the airstrike shatter an otherwise quiet street and footage shows bodies and severed limbs strewn in the street
Casualties pour into Syrian hospitals as the Turkish border offensive continues with as many as 74 injured in today’s convoy strike
The flashpoint area housed U.S. troops who patrolled the region since 2017 to deter a confrontation between Turkey and Kurdish fighters.
A U.S. official said Monday troops were still the town, preparing to leave.
‘We are about to implement our decision on Manbij,’ Erdogan told reporters, adding that Turkey aimed to return the city to Arab populations that he said were its rightful owners.
Turkish forces were already positioned at the city’s edge, according to CNN-Turk. Syrian troops already have a presence south of Manbij.
Erdogan has already said Turkey will not negotiate with the Syrian Kurdish fighters, saying they have links to a long-running Kurdish insurgency within its own borders.
Heavy fighting there on Sunday reached a Kurdish-run camp for displaced persons in Ein Issa. The camp is home to about 12,000 people, including around 950 wives and children of IS fighters, and hundreds are believed to have escaped amid the chaos.
Syria’s state-run news agency SANA said government forces planned to ‘confront the Turkish aggression,’ without giving further details.
Photos posted by SANA showed several vehicles and a small number of troops in Tal Tamr, a predominantly Assyrian Christian town that was once held by IS before it was retaken by Kurdish-led forces.
Many Syrian Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Syria’s prewar population of 23 million, left for Europe in the past 20 years, with the flight gathering speed since the conflict began in March 2011.
Journalists, including foreigners, were accompanying the convoy. A Kurdish news agency, Hawar, said one of its reporters was killed
In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border with Syria, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, smoke billows from fires on targets in Ras al-Ayn
Images shared by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights appear to picture people running away from the Ain Issa
The Observatory said journalists, including foreigners, were accompanying the convoy. A Kurdish news agency, Hawar, said one of its reporters was killed
Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, as seen from the Turkish border town of Akcakale today, as military action continues
A Turkish-backed Syrian fighter fires a heavy machine gun in the border Syrian town of Tal Abyad on Sunday during further clashes
Turkey’s cross-border attack in northern Syria against Kurdish forces widened to target the town of Suluk which was hit by Ankara’s Syrian rebel allies. There were conflicting accounts on the outcome of the fighting.
Turkey is facing threats of possible sanctions from the US unless it calls off the incursion. Two of its NATO allies, Germany and France, have said they are halting weapons exports to Turkey. The Arab League has denounced the operation.
France said today it was ‘worried’ to hear of the report that hundreds of relatives of foreign jihadists had escaped.
‘Of course we are worried about what could happen and that is why we want Turkey… to end as quickly as possible the intervention it has begun,’ government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye told France 3 television.
This was echoed by Germany as Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the phone to stop his country’s military offensive.
A statement by the Chancellery said regardless of ‘legitimate Turkish security interests,’ the military operation threatens to displace major parts of the local population.
Germany says the offensive also threatens to destabilise the region and restrengthen the extremist Islamic State group.
It came as Vladimir Putin said all foreign troops should leave Syria unless the Syrian government asks them to stay.
A Turkish military truck carries tanks on the way to Northern Syria for the military operation in Kurdish areas in Akcakale district, Turkey
Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters sit in a military tank in the village of Yabisa, near the Turkish-Syrian border, on Sunday
A man waves a Syrian opposition flag reading ‘Free Syria’ on Sunday in Akcakale, Turkey, as smoke rises in the background
Turkish army vehicles and military personnel are stationed near the Turkish-Syrian border in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, today
The Russian president said in an interview with three Arabic television stations that was released Sunday that ‘all foreign nations’ should withdraw their troops unless they have been asked by the Syrian government to stay there.
He said Russia, which has a significant military presence there as well as an air and a naval bases, would also leave if President Bashar Assad asks it to.
Trump sends $50million in emergency financial aid to Syria
President Trump says he will send $50million in emergency financial aid for Syria as Turkey continues its attacks on Kurdish territory just one week after the president pulled US troops from the area.
The money will be sent to assist human rights groups and other organizations to ‘protect persecuted ethnic and religious minorities and advance human rights,’ according to a statement released Saturday night by the Office of the Press Secretary.
On Sunday, President Trump defended his decision to pull U.S. troops from Northern Syria, leaving the America’s Kurdish allies to a Turkish invasion, calling it ‘very smart’ for the US to ‘not be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border, for a change.’
‘Those that mistakenly got us into the Middle East Wars are still pushing to fight.They have no idea what a bad decision they have made.
‘Why are they not asking for a Declaration of War?’ he added.
Trump spoke of the $50million in aid while at the Values Voters Summit’s Faith, family and Freedom gala dinner Saturday night.
‘Other presidents would not be doing that, they’d be spending a lot more money but on things that wouldn’t make you happy,’ he said.
‘The U.S. condemns the persecution of Christians and we pledge our support to Christians all over.’
Putin, a staunch backer of Assad, stopped short of condemning Turkey for sending its troops across the border into northeastern Syria earlier this week, but said that other nations should respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
And the US appeared to oblige as it is now poised to evacuate about 1,000 US troops from northern Syria, Defence Secretary Mark Esper said in an interview today.
‘In the last 24 hours, we learned that [the Turks] likely intend to extend their attack further south than originally planned, and to the west,’ Esper said in a pre-taped interview with CBS.
‘We also have learned in the last 24 hours that the … SDF are looking to cut a deal, if you will, with the Syrians and the Russians to counterattack against the Turks in the north.’
Esper called the situation ‘untenable’ for US forces, saying he spoke with Trump last night, and that the president directed the U.S. military to ‘begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria.’
Ankara launched the assault against the Kurdish YPG militia after Trump’s first withdrawal of some US troops from the border region last week.
It says the YPG is a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish militants waging an insurgency in Turkey.
Turkey’s stated objective is to set up a ‘safe zone’ inside Syria to resettle many of the 3.6 million Syrian war refugees it has been hosting. President Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to send them to Europe if the EU does not back his assault.
But the Turkish incursion has raised international alarm over large-scale displacements of civilians and, amidst the upheaval, the possibility of Islamic State militants escaping from prisons run by the Kurdish-led authorities.
The Kurdish-led forces have been the main regional ally of the United States against Islamic State in Syria.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) hold swathes of territory that was once part of Islamic State’s ‘caliphate’.
The SDF has been keeping thousands of IS jihadists in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.
SDF official Marvan Qamishlo said there were not have enough guards for the camp, which is north of Raqqa and about 20 miles south of the Turkish border.
‘The guarding is very weak now,’ he said, adding there were now just 60-70 security personnel at the camp compared with a normal level of no less than 700 in the camp of 12,000 people.
Along the front lines, Turkish forces and Syrian rebels entered Suluk, some 6 miles from Turkey’s border, the Observatory said on Sunday.
Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency said the rebels seized complete control of Suluk. But the SDF’s Qamishlo said SDF forces had repelled the attack and were still in control.
It is believed the ISIS ‘matchmaker’ Tooba Gondal (pictured), 25, from Walthamstow, who reportedly lured Shamima Begum to Syria, was in the camp with her two children after she was caught trying to get to Turkey following the fall of Baghuz
Pictures taken by British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights show the inside of the camp as Turkish-backed forces approached
Syrian rebel fighters ride on a truck mounted with a weapon in the village of Yabisa, near the Turkish-Syrian border, on Sunday
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor confirmed ‘around 100’ foreign women and children from families of IS members escaped the camp (file photo of a volunteer caretaker inside the camp), without specifying their nationalities
Hundreds of demonstrators including Kurdish citizens march through central London towards Westminster in protest against Turkey’s military offensive in Syria
Hundreds of protesters with placards showing Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and slogans reading ‘Murderer Turkish State’ and making their way through central London towards Westminster.
Demonstrations began at the BBC’s Broadcasting House at around 12.30pm against the continued Turkish military presence in Rojava, in northern Syria.
The crowd, which included Kurdish citizens, then marched down Regent Street, chanting ‘down with fascism’ and setting off red smoke.
Demonstrations began at the BBC’s Broadcasting House at around 12.30pm against the continued Turkish military presence in Rojava, in northern Syria. Pictured on Regent Street
Niaz Maarof, 41, a driver from London, was part of the march and said the Kurdish community was opposed to the Turkish military presence in northern Syria.
‘This is a demonstration showing against Erdogan and Turkey attacking the Kurdish in Rojava after almost 10 years that we have been fighting against ISIS.
‘They liberated the area, they are running a democratic government and now Turkey, with the green light from America, is attacking the area. So, as Kurds, we are not happy about it.
Mr Maarof from South Kurdistan said he agreed with Boris Johnson, who this week urged President Erdogan to end the military assault but that more action was needed from the British Government.
‘The world does owe the Kurdish now for what they did in Syria. If you really mean it, the British should stop selling Turkey weapons, because last year Theresa May gave them planes and now they are using them against us.
‘The whole world is watching and no-one is saying anything.
‘We, the Kurdish, are upset, not only with Turkey but with most of the world, because we are not being helped.’
Protesters chanted ‘wake up UK, Turkish state is Isis’ and set off coloured smoke as the march made its way through central London towards Parliament Square.