Turkish military shelling SDF position in border town of Ras al-Ain, Kurdish-led force says.
Turkey is preparing to launch a long-threatened military operation in northeast Syria to remove Kurdish-led forces from the border area and create a “safe zone” to resettle millions of Syrian refugees.
The move came after the United States announced it was withdrawing its troops from the region, effectively abandoning the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), its main ally in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group.
The SDF, led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), has denounced Washington’s move as a “stab in the back”.
Turkey considers the YPG a “terrorist” group.
The United Nations, the European Union and other world powers have expressed alarm over the Turkish plan, warning that any military action could exacerbate the suffering of Syrians already beleaguered by eight years of conflict.
Here are all the latest updates:
Wednesday, October 9
Erdogan aide says Turkey to start Syria offensive “shortly”
The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army, will cross the Syrian border “shortly”, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director said early on Wednesday, as Ankara starts military action in the region.
In a tweet, Fahrettin Altun said that Kurdish fighters there could either defect or Ankara would have to “stop them from disrupting” Turkey’s struggle against ISIL.
Tuesday, October 8
SDF says Turkey is shelling border point
The SDF said Turkish forces were attacking one of its positions near the border.
“The Turkish military is shelling one of our points on #SereKaniye Border with Turkey,” the SDF said in a post on Twitter, referencing the key border town of Ras al-Ain.
“There were no injuries to our forces. We didn’t respond to this unprovoked attack. We are prepared to defend the people and the people of NE #Syria,” it added.
The Turkish military is shelling one of our points on #SereKaniye Border with Turkey. There were no injuries to our forces.
We didn’t respond to this unprovoked attack. We are prepared to defend the people and the people of NE #Syria.@mutludc @mustefabali @vvanwilgenburg
— Coordination & Military Ops Center – SDF (@cmoc_sdf) October 8, 2019
Ras al-Ain was one of the places from which US troops withdrew from on Monday, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Turkish MPs extend mandate for cross-border operations
Turkey’s parliament voted to extend by another year a mandate that allows the government to order cross-border military offensives in Iraq and Syria.
The mandate has allowed the country to battle Kurdish rebels, ISIL fighters and other groups that Turkey views as “terrorists” in Iraq and Syria and has been extended every year since 2014.
The current mandate expires on October 30.
Turkish ambassador urges states to take back suspected ISIL fighters
Umit Yalcin, Turkey’s ambassador to Britain, urged states to take back suspected ISIL fighters amid Turkey’s seemingly imminent military push into northern Syria.
“All the countries should take back their own ‘terrorist’ fighters or ‘terrorists’. That is the ideal thing. Because when they were leaving their countries, they had their nationalities and passports,” Yalcin told UK broadcaster Sky News.
“Those countries should take those people back to their own countries and they can bring them justice, or take them to court or rehabilitate them,” he added.
The SDF is currently holding 12,000 suspected ISIL fighters – some of whom are foreign nationals – in several detention facilities spread across northern Syria, as well as some 58,000 family members, according to reports.
Trump consulted Pentagon over Syria troop withdrawal
US President Donald Trump consulted with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley “over the last several days” about a possible Turkish strike in Syria, a spokesman for the US Defense Department said.
“Unfortunately, Turkey has chosen to act unilaterally. As a result, we have moved the US forces in northern Syria out of the path of potential Turkish incursion to ensure their safety. We have made no changes to our force presence in Syria at this time,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.
Russia warns against actions that ‘inhibit peace process’
Russia’s security council said it was important to avoid hindering the peace process in Syria, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
The influential council discussed the creation of a constitutional committee in the country and “remarked that at this stage everyone should avoid any actions that can inhibit the peace process in Syria,” Peskov said.
Peskov had earlier said Russia was not informed about the withdrawal of the US from the region.
“We still don’t know which troops are being withdrawn, in what amount, and whether they are being withdrawn at all,” he added.
Will Turkey succeed in creating a ‘safe zone’ for Syrians?
Ankara plans to create a “safe zone” in northern Syria within which it can resettle millions of Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey.
But some critics of the proposal have cast doubts over its feasibility.
Read more here.
Turkey’s Erdogan to visit US next month
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit the US on November 13 at the invitation of Trump, a White House spokesman said.
Trump said Erdogan was visiting as his “guest” in a series of earlier tweets defending his decision this week to withdraw US forces from northern Syria.
How would a Turkey-SDF battle play out?
With Turkey seemingly poised to cross its frontier with Syria imminently, analysts weighed what a military confrontation between Washington’s long-time Kurdish allies and its fellow NATO member might look like.
Read more here.
Britain ‘deeply concerned’ by Turkish military plans
Britain said it was “deeply concerned” by Turkey’s looming move to target Kurdish militias in northern Syria.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the British government had been “consistently clear with Turkey that unilateral military action must be avoided as it would destabilise the region”.
Syrian minister calls on Kurds to reconcile with government
Faisal Mekdad, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, called on Syrian Kurds to rejoin the government side rather than “plunge into the abyss” as Kurdish militias in the country’s northeast brace for an imminent Turkish attack.
“The homeland welcomes all its sons and Damascus will solve all Syrian problems in a positive way, away from violence,” Mekdad was quoted as saying by the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper.
“We advise those who have gone astray to return to the nation, because the nation is their final destiny,” he added , vowing to “defend all Syrian territory”.
Mekdad’s comments were the first Syrian government reaction since Trump‘s announcement on withdrawing US troops from the northern region.
Trump: US has not ‘abandoned the Kurds’
The US government had not “abandoned the Kurds”, Trump said in a post on Twitter, despite seemingly giving the green light for the Turkish operation by pulling US troops from the region.
“We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters,” Trump said.
We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters. Likewise our relationship with Turkey, a NATO and Trading partner, has been very good. Turkey already has a large Kurdish population and fully….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 8, 2019
Turkey says it is ready for Syria push
The Turkish defence ministry said it was all set to launch its military push into northeast Syria.
Turkey’s armed forces “will never tolerate the establishment of a terror corridor on our borders. All preparations for the operation have been completed,” it said in a post on Twitter.
“It is essential to establish a safe zone/peace corridor to contribute to our region’s peace and stability, and for Syrians to achieve a safe life.”
Read more here.
Turkish military struck Syria-Iraq border: Report
The Turkish military carried out attacks targeting the Syrian-Iraqi border overnight to prevent Kurdish forces using the route to reinforce northeast Syria, two Turkish officials told the Reuters news agency.
“One of the fundamental goals was to cut off before the operation in Syria the transit route between Iraq and Syria,” a security official said. “In this way, the group’s transit to Syria and support lines, including ammunition, are shut off.”
It was not clear what damage was caused or whether there were casualties.
Russia, Turkey discuss northeast Syria
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed the situation in northeast Syria with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, by telephone.
A Russian foreign ministry statement released no details of the conversation but said the two ministers agreed to continue a close dialogue.
Russia, a major military ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad aiding his forces in the fight against rebels, has emerged as a leading power broker in Syria and has said that the country’s territorial integrity must be respected by all outside powers.