11 Killed as Turkey Launches Assault on Kurdish Militants in Syria


Turkey launched a broad assault on Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria on Wednesday, with intensive bombardment paving the way for an invasion made possible by the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the attack on Twitter and soon after jets and artillery targeted Kurdish positions along the full width of the border, sending thousands of civilians fleeing their homes.

The move had seemed inevitable since U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday announced a military pullback from the border, but the attack triggered international condemnation and an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council set for Thursday.

The White House said Wednesday the Turkish assault was a "bad idea" after it had effectively gifted Erdogan a green light and smashed the U.S. alliance with the Kurdish forces, who spearheaded five years of ground battles against the Islamic State group in Syria.

An AFP correspondent reported Turkish artillery fire in the Ras al-Ain border area and explosions as warplanes flew overhead.

As plumes of smoke billowed into the sky, families could be seen filing out of town, some walking and others piling into vehicles with their belongings.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up mostly of the main Kurdish militia in the region, reported that at least two civilians were killed in air strikes.

SDF fighters armed with rocket launchers were seen deploying in the area, as Kurdish authorities called up civilians to defend against the assault.

Kurdish sources reported that at least 16 positions were struck in the first hours of the operation, to which the SDF responded with some cross-border artillery fire.

While the Turkish military and its Syrian proxies -- Arab-dominated former Syrian rebels -- had not yet crossed into Syria, an AFP photographer saw forces massing near the border.

The SDF called on the international community to impose a no-fly zone to protect against "an imminent humanitarian crisis."

Erdogan, who dubbed the attack "Operation Peace Spring", says the offensive is necessary to curb the power of the SDF due to its ties with Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey.

He also wants a "safe zone" on the Syrian side of the border where Turkey could send back some of the 3.6 million refugees it hosts from the eight-year civil war.

Trump insists the United States did not abandon its Kurdish allies, but he vowed to pull his troops out of Syria last year and analysts now predict that the days of the U.S. presence in Syria are numbered.

- 'General mobilization' -

In the face of the onslaught, Kurdish authorities announced a general mobilization, 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 U.S. ally and the whole international community responsible for any "humanitarian catastrophe."

In Ras al-Ain, Kurdish-led security forces set up checkpoints and stockpiled tires to set alight to blur the vision of Turkish military pilots, an AFP correspondent reported.

Ras al-Ain was one of the places from which U.S. troops withdrew on Monday.

"We will not leave this land," said Kawa Sleem, 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 Abyad 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.

But the flat and open terrain favor the vastly superior Turkish military over the Kurds, who have no air force and limited equipment.

- 'Massive opposition' -

The Kurdish-led SDF say they lost 11,000 personnel in years of operations against IS that climaxed in March with a battle against the final bastion of the jihadists' caliphate in Baghouz.

Trump, who is campaigning for a second mandate, has faced a barrage of criticism, including from close allies in Washington, for appearing to leave U.S. allies to their fate.

Senior Republican senator Lindsey Graham argued the U.S. administration had "shamelessly abandoned" the Kurds and warned he would "lead (an) effort in Congress to make Erdogan pay a heavy price."

There has also been a chorus of international concern, including from France -- the top U.S. partner in the anti-IS coalition -- and Russia, now even more firmly the main foreign player in Syria.

Since 2015, Russia has been the main military backer of the Syrian government, which has seized on the policy shift from Trump to try to persuade the Kurds to accept the restoration of central government control.

The Kurds have warned that a Turkish offensive would reverse the military gains achieved against IS and allow the jihadist group's surviving leaders to come out of hiding.

IS claimed an overnight suicide attack by two of its fighters in its former Syria stronghold of Raqa, the latest evidence that jihadist sleeper cells remained a threat.

Turkey has said it would not allow a resurgence of IS, but called on European countries to repatriate jihadist prisoners being held in Kurdish detention centers.

Comments 5
Thumb ado.australia 09 October 2019, 17:40

Peace in the Middle East! Easy solution! Give the Kurds their land between turkey, iraq, Syria and Iran. They deserve it. They have their own language, culture and identity! They will not be your enemy. Give them a chance. Be better then Israeli zionists.

Give the Palestinians their rights and land. Let the Palestinians be given their right and dignity. They will not be your enemy if u give them their rights or compensate them. Surely it’s cheaper to compensate then it is to occupy and be under constant war. Let Lebanon be in peace! We have suffers enough. More Syrians have entered Europe then there are Palestinian refugees! Let all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon return to Israel or migrate to the west! Peace in the Middle East! Easy!

Missing keserwaniaseel 09 October 2019, 19:32

This must be the 1st time that I agree with you. Are you under the influence of qaat?

Thumb s.o.s 09 October 2019, 20:22

Ado.australia bi shim.... kalset.

Thumb thepatriot 09 October 2019, 21:32

I agree for Kurds ado... as for Palestinians... They can go to hell as far as I am concerned. They made us pay the heavy price, and they are stupid people always pretending for more than they can afford. they have has over the decades over 20 occasions to make peace... but no! They want more and more, and end up with less and less... Stupid!

Missing bigjohn 09 October 2019, 22:49

Stupid Zionist "they want more and more". Who came to Palestine and have been taking more and more.

Yes, you ALWAYS thrash Lebanon and the Lebanese (Christians and Muslims M8, M14 and independents) and support Israeli aggression, and you claim you ONLY care about Lebanon. You are not fooling anyone. You are either a Zionist Jew or an Israeli collaborator who both are Lebanon's enemies.