Erdogan announces start of Turkish offensive in northern Syria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Wednesday the Turkish military and a Syrian militia have begun a military operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria, days after President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments MORE's abrupt decision to pull U.S. troops from the area.

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Dubbing the operation “Peace Spring,” Erdogan said the goal is to “prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area.”

“#OperationPeaceSpring will neutralize terror threats against Turkey and lead to the establishment of a safe zone, facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their homes,” Erdogan tweeted.

 

The start of the operation comes after Trump said U.S. troops that were operating in northern Syria would retreat in a move that has widely been seen as Trump giving his blessing for NATO ally Turkey to proceed. The decision, announced Sunday night by the White House, came after a call between Trump and Erdogan.

In a Wednesday afternoon statement released by the White House, Trump stressed the United States “does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea.”

But he also said the United States should not be part of “endless, senseless wars.”

“Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment,” Trump said. “In addition, Turkey is now responsible for ensuring all ISIS fighters being held captive remain in prison and that ISIS does not reconstitute in any way, shape, or form. We expect Turkey to abide by all of its commitments, and we continue to monitor the situation closely.”

The U.S. military relied on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is led by the Kurds, as the local ground force fighting ISIS. But Ankara considers the Syrian Kurds terrorists who are an extension of a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

Ankara has long threatened to attack the Kurds in Syria, but held off while U.S. troops acted as a buffer.

U.S. lawmakers in both parties blasted Trump’s decision as abandoning the United States’ Kurdish partners to be slaughtered by Turkey, sending a chilling message to any would-be U.S. partners going forward.

They have also raised fears the chaos will lead to an ISIS resurgence, including the likelihood that ISIS prisoners will escape when their guards shift their own focus to fighting Turkey.

Just before Erdogan’s announcement, Trump ally Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Hannity slams Stern for Clinton interview: 'Not the guy I grew up listening to' The Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment MORE (R-S.C.) said on “Fox and Friends” that Trump’s Syria decision could “be the biggest mistake of his presidency.”

After Erdogan’s announcement, Graham added on Twitter that the Trump administration has has "shamelessly abandoned" the Kurds.

Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran Cruz, Graham and Cheney call on Trump to end all nuclear waivers for Iran Pompeo: US ending sanctions waiver for site where Iran resumed uranium enrichment MORE (R-Wyo.), meanwhile, said Trump’s move is “having sickening and predictable consequences.”

“This decision aids America’s adversaries, Russia, Iran, and Turkey, and paves the way for a resurgence of ISIS," Cheney said. "This action imperils American security and that of our allies. Congress must and will act to limit the catastrophic impact of this decision.”

Trump has defended his decision by saying it is time to end U.S. participation in “ridiculous Endless Wars” and “come home,” though Pentagon and White House officials have said U.S. troops are moving to bases elsewhere in Syria rather than withdrawing from the country.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Democratic congressman calls for study of effects of sex-trafficking law McConnell says he's 'honored' to be WholeFoods Magazine's 2019 'Person of the Year' MORE (R-Ky.), who is seen as an outsider among Republicans on foreign policy, defended Trump on Wednesday, calling Graham and Cheney a “neocon War Caucus.”

“I know this @realDonaldTrump is the first President in my lifetime to understand what is our national interest and what is not,” Paul tweeted. “He is stopping the endless wars and we will be stronger as a result. The Cheney/Graham Neocon War Caucus has cost us too much fighting endless wars.”

At about the same time that Erdoğan announced the start of the offensive, the SDF said “civilian areas” were being struck by Turkish warplanes.

“Turkish warplanes have started to carry out airstrikes on civilian areas. There is a huge panic among people of the region,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted.

The SDF’s Coordination and Military Operations Center tweeted out video showing plumes of smoke emanating from the town of Qamishli. It also said Turkish aircraft were flying over the town of Ras al-Ayn “after an hour-long of artillery and aerial bombardment that killed civilians and injured many others.”

Prior to Trump’s decision to pull back from northeast Syria, the United States was working on setting up a safe zone near Syria’s border with Turkey to assuage Ankara’s concerns.

As part of setting up the safe zone, the SDF pulled its defenses from the area. Without its defenses, the SDF on Wednesday asked the United States to implement a no fly zone.

 

“The #SDF showed good faith to the security mechanism agreement between the #US & #Turkey. This left our people defenseless,” the SDF’s Coordination and Military Operations Center tweeted. “We ask the US & the @Coalition for a NO FLY ZONE to stop the attacks on innocent people.”