Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed via Twitter that the Turkish offensive in northern Syria to reduce Kurdish fighters has begun. A Turkish bombardment of a village in the northern Syrian city of Ras al-Ain has already killed at least two civilians and injured as many, according to the Arabic news channel al-Jazeera, which quoted the Syrian Democratic Armed Forces (SDF). Putin warned Erdogan in a telephone call. The UN Security Council will meet tomorrow for an emergency session on the Turkish offensive.
“The Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Syrian National Army, just launched #OperationPeaceSpring against PKK/YPG and Daesh (the Arab acronym of IS, ed.). Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” said Erdogan in an English-language tweet.
The operation will stop the terror threat against Turkey and set up a safe zone so that Syrian refugees can return home, Erdogan said. “We are going to preserve the territorial integrity of Syria and free local communities from terrorists,” said the president.
Explosions and bombing
This is Turkey’s third offensive against the Syrian-Kurdish militias in three years. Various sources have already reported explosions and shelling. The Turkish state television TRT has reported that the Turkish army has attacked five targets in Ras al-Ain, in northeastern Syria on the Turkish border. The channel showed images of F-16s taking off from a military base in Diyarbakir. According to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), at least two civilian casualties have already occurred, al-Jazeera reports.
A spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, has reported on Twitter that Turkish fighter planes have started bombing civilian targets. “There is an enormous amount of panic among the people in the region,” said the spokesperson.
Two mortar shells have also been smashed in the Turkish district of Ceylanpinar in the border province of Sanliurfa, bordering on Syria, reports the Turkish state news agency Anadolu. There are no messages about victims. According to the press agency, the YPG/PKK fired the projectiles. According to Anadolu, Turkish F-16s have flown up to 30 km into Syrian airspace.
Phone call with Putin
In the run-up to Turkey’s planned military offensive in northern Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. According to official sources in Ankara, Erdogan said that the planned raid east of the Euphrates River would contribute to peace and stability in Syria. It will also pave the way for the political process in Syria, according to Turkish official sources. According to those sources, Erdogan also thanked the Russian president for his constructive attitude.
The Russian president, in turn, warned his Turkish counterpart in the telephone conversation at the start of the Turkish military offensive in Syria. Putin stressed “the importance of guaranteeing the unity and territorial integrity of Syria, and respect for its sovereignty,” the Kremlin reports.
Moscow supports President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war. Ankara is on the side of the rebels. According to Turkey, the US, Russia, Germany, France, Great Britain, France, and Italy were informed of the offensive at noon.
The Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu says, according to the Turkish state news agency Anadolu, that “Operation Peace Spring” is taking place following international legislation, the UN Charter, the resolutions of the UN Security Council in the fight against terrorism. According to Bloomberg, Turkey will inform the members of the Security Council of the offensive.
The UN Security Council will hold an emergency session tomorrow on the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. The meeting behind closed doors comes at the request of Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, and Great Britain, the FPS Foreign Affairs confirms.
France, Germany, among others, strongly condemned the operation. They warn that the offensive will destabilize the region even more and pave the way for terrorist group IS to re-profile itself. The Dutch parliament wants to punish Turkey: parties from the government coalition and opposition advocate measures against Turkey. According to CDA MP Martijn van Helvert, the European Union (EU) has diplomatic and economic power if member states are united. “All these means to force Turkey back must be deployed,” he says.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) today asked the United States and their allies to set up a no-fly zone to protect northern Syria against the Turkish bombing. “The SDF has had faith in the security mechanism between the US and Turkey. This leaves our people defenseless behind,” according to the Arab news channel al-Arabiya, the alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.
Trump responds to Twitter
The US has not yet answered the question of the SDF. After the start of the offensive, President Donald Trump did retweet a message from a Republican campaign worker who said that Trump had done well to withdraw American troops. “Right. We should never have been there,” Trump added.
Trump is said to have asked American troops not to get involved in the situation in northern Syria, American journalists report under the authority of officials.
Earlier in the day, Trump also tweeted that the US spent $8 trillion on fighting and mediating in the Middle East. “Thousands of our wonderful soldiers have died or been seriously injured. Invading the Middle East is the worst decision in our country’s history. We started a war under a false premise: weapons of mass destruction. There were none!”
“This decision causes IS to rise again”
The American Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the fiercest defenders of the American head of state Donald Trump, has called on the White House resident on Wednesday to “change course.”
“Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump government. This decision causes IS to rise again,” says the influential Republican Senator. “I call on President Trump to change course while there is still time to return to the concept of a safe zone that worked.”
Graham also said he would take steps in Congress to ensure that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “will pay a heavy price”.
Senator Liz Cheney, one of the most authoritative Republicans in the House of Representatives, says via NBC News that “it is impossible to understand why President Trump is leaving American allies behind to be massacred and to enable the resurrection of IS.”
This morning a small group of Turkish soldiers had been sent first. They entered Syria at two points along the border, close to the Syrian cities of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, in preparation for the broader offensive. That is what a Turkish official, who wished to remain anonymous, told Bloomberg. The Turkish government had previously said that the attack against the Kurds in northern Syria would start “soon”. The Syrian rebels associated with Turkey also relocated their troops to the area concerned.
The offensive is directed against Kurdish troops east of the Euphrates. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) control a large area on the border with Turkey there. Ankara regards the militia as a terror organization. The YPG is, at the same time, an essential ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) terrorism in Syria. However, Washington has announced that it will withdraw its troops from the border area concerned.
Kurdish government calls for mobilization
The Kurdish government in northeastern Syria has called on citizens to defend the area in an attack by Turkey. “We are announcing three days of general mobilization in northern and eastern Syria,” said a statement calling on all citizens to “go to the border with Turkey… to resist during this sensitive historical moment.” Also, Kurds in the rest of Syria and abroad are being called upon to protest against the Ankara offensive.
UN calls for restraint
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, called on all parties in northeastern Syria for “maximum restraint”. He argued for the protection of citizens and civilian institutions and the preservation of humanitarian access to those in need. According to Guterres, only a political process supported by the UN can bring peace, and there is no military solution.
Juncker not set up with a raid
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was not set up with the Turkish invasion of Syria. He said that this afternoon during the plenary session in the European Parliament. “I call on Turkey to act reluctantly and to stop the military actions. This will not lead to good results. And if the plan is to arrive at a safe zone, don’t expect the European Union to contribute to that. The EU only wants to contribute to real political transition.”
Iran asks to think again
Iranian President Hassan Rohani has also called on Turkey to reconsider its decision to launch a military offensive in northern Syria. Rohani understands Ankara’s concern about security at the southern borders of the country, but it has to be careful that it does not go the wrong way, the president said today at a council of ministers in Tehran.
In the eyes of Rohani, only the Syrian army can ensure security on the southern borders of Turkey (or the northern borders of Syria). That is why all parties must support the Syrian military to complete that task, according to the Iranian president successfully.
“Infringement of sovereignty”
In the Syrian civil war, Iran is one of the most important allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. According to Rohani, a Turkish military offensive will only add an extra problem to the conflict in Syria. “What Syria now needs immediately is security and stability, so that the Syrian refugees can return to their homes sooner.”
In the meantime, the Syrian government is determined to defend itself against the planned Turkish offensive. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Damascus speaks of an open violation of the sovereignty of the country. The “hostile behavior of the Erdogan regime” shows Turkey’s drive for expansion, it is said.
France, Germany and Great Britain
France, Germany, and Great Britain have called on the United Nations Security Council to organize a meeting. French media report this under the authority of the French Secretary of State for European Affairs Amélie de Montchalin. She also said that France “strongly condemns” the offensive.
The Elysée also reported earlier that French President Emmanuel Macron met Tuesday with a Syrian Kurdish leader in Paris, where he expressed his support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are important partners in the fight against IS. France is also said to have deployed special forces in northeastern Syria, which is controlled by the SDF.
The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also said he condemned the offensive. “In this way, Turkey will further destabilize the region and risk promoting the revival of IS,” he said. “We call on Turkey to stop its offensive and to continue peacekeeping peacefully.”
NATO: “Do not destabilize the region”
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary-general, calls on Turkey to be cautious. “NATO has been informed by the Turkish authorities of its operation in northern Syria. I count on Turkey to act with restraint and to ensure that the victories that we have achieved on IS are not compromised,” says Stoltenberg. He added to discuss the issue with Turkish President Recep Tayyip on Friday, during a meeting in Istanbul.
During a visit to Rome, Stoltenberg also said it was important “that Turkey avoid actions that further destabilize the region, cause tensions to escalate and cause more human suffering”.
1) What exactly is going on?
There has been speculation about it for ages, but this afternoon it happened: the Turkish army crossed the border into northeastern Syria. The Turks receive help from several Arab militias, who assisted Turkey earlier in a raid in northwestern Syria. Ground reporters report bombing at the Ras al-Ayn border town. The area that the Turks are entering is Syrian territory, but in the hands of Kurdish militias, united in the SDF (the Syrian Democratic Armed Forces).
2) Why does Erdogan do this?
President Erdogan says his troops are entering Syria to establish a safe area to which Syrian refugees, who are currently still in Turkey, can return. And, probably more important to the president, “Operation Peace Spring”, he says, is directed against “PKK/YPG and IS terrorists in northern Syria. We want to prevent a terror corridor across our southern border.” The YPG is part of the SDF. According to Erdogan, there are close ties between the Syrian Kurds of the YPG and the Turkish Kurds of PKK. That PKK is also on the European terror list, their leader Ocalan is serving a life sentence.
3) What is Donald Trump’s role?
Until the beginning of this week, American soldiers were present in the border region of Turkey and Northeast Syria. The US was an ally of the SDF and the Syrian Kurds. Together they fought for years against IS, including the Battle of Raqqa, and dropped the caliphate. Because of the American presence, Turkey could not attack the Kurds, since the two countries are NATO partners. Trump decided after a phone call with Erdogan to withdraw his troops: “The Kurds have had a lot of money and material support from us, but it is time for America to stop local tribal wars.” Two days later, Turkey invaded.
4) What are the consequences of the raid?
That the relative tranquility in the area has disappeared. The Kurds are devilish, feel abandoned by the Americans. They have announced that they will fight against Turkish troops. That probably also means that their fight against the remains of IS will be less. It may also mean that there is less supervision of the tens of thousands of (European) IS fighters and families who are now trapped in Kurdish cells and detention camps. The fear is that they will escape on a large scale, and rejoin IS cells that are still present. Trump wants the Turks to take over responsibility for IS prisoners from the Kurds. Erdogan has not commented on that yet.