Turkey launches military offensive in Syria
Ankara: Turkey began a planned military offensive into northeastern Syria on Wednesday, launching airstrikes and artillery fire across the border just days after the Trump administration announced it was pulling US troops back from the area.
The operation is aimed at pushing Kurdish forces — who were a key ally of the US in the fight against ISIS — away from Turkey’s border.
“Our aim is to destroy the terror corridor which is trying to be established on our southern border and to bring peace to the region,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted as he announced the start of the operation.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who operate in the area, are US allies. They are led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist organisation.
As a barrage of airstrikes and artillery fire volleyed into northern Syria, chaotic scenes unfolded on the ground as people tried to flee to safety. Roads were gridlocked with hundreds of fleeing families, motorcycles piled with five to six people and mattresses strapped to cars.
Reports began to filter in on Wednesday following the aerial bombardment, with the SDF tweeting that two civilians had been killed and two others injured in the village of Misharrafa, west of Ras al-Ain.
The SDF said civilian homes in the village of Sikarkah in eastern Qamishli and areas near the Bouzra dam in Derik — which provides water to hundreds of thousands of civilians in northern Syria — were also targeted.
The SDF suspended their counter-ISIS operations amid the bombardment in order to focus on the Turkish offensive.
“We will clash against the Turks to not allow them to cross the border. We will use all our possibilities against Turkish aggression,” the group’s spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted.
On Wednesday night, Turkey’s Defence Ministry wrote on their verified Twitter account: “The Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian National Army have launched the land operation into the east of the Euphrates river as part of the Operation Peace Spring.”
The Syrian National Army is considered the biggest umbrella group for the factions of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army.
The offensive comes days after US President Donald Trump provoked a storm of criticism, including from his own party, by announcing the pullback of US military forces from northeast Syria.