Turks tar­get Kur­dish fight­ers in Syria

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Nabih Bu­los and David S. Cloud

AM­MAN, Jor­dan — In a move to ex­cise a U.S.-backed Kur­dish mili­tia, Tur­key launched an in­cur­sion into north­ern Syria on Wed­nes­day that frus­trated law­mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton who had hoped to pre­vent an aban­don­ment of an im­por­tant ally against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants.

Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan an­nounced via Twit­ter the start of the Turk­ish blitz even as news chan­nels be­gan to beam images of Turk­ish ar­tillery and war­planes pound­ing the parts of north­ern Syria con­trolled by the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, a Kur­dish-led group of mili­tias that have for years re­ceived back­ing from the United States.

“The Turk­ish Armed Forces, to­gether with the Syr­ian Na­tional Army, just launched #Oper­a­tionPeaceS­pring,” Er­do­gan wrote. “Our mis­sion is to pre­vent the cre­ation of a ter­ror cor­ri­dor across our south­ern bor­der, and to bring peace to the area.”

A spokesman for the Syr­ian Kur­dish forces, Mustafa Bali, con­firmed that Turk­ish war­planes had be­gun airstrikes on ar­eas near the Syr­ian bor­der. At least seven civil­ians re­port­edly were killed in the strikes.

The op­er­a­tion comes af­ter the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in ef­fect said this week it would al­low a Turk­ish in­cur­sion into Syria, as the U.S. with­drew its troops. The move brought harsh crit­i­cism even from the pres­i­dent’s staunch Repub­li­can al­lies, who ex­co­ri­ated him for al­low­ing one U.S. ally, Tur­key, to at­tack an­other ally, the Kurds.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, in a state­ment is­sued by the White House on Wed­nes­day, said the U.S. “does not en­dorse this at­tack and has made it clear to Tur­key that this op­er­a­tion is a bad idea.”

Ac­tivist groups posted images and videos of civil­ians es­cap­ing Ras al-Ayn, one of two towns tar­geted in the Turk­ish of­fen­sive.

Tur­key’s state-run Anadolu Agency re­ported that the govern­ment was de­ploy­ing ar­tillery and mor­tars along with war­planes to strike po­si­tions in Ras al-Ayn and else­where, while troops de­stroyed for­ti­fi­ca­tions set up by the Kurds.

White House of­fi­cials de­fended their de­ci­sion to with­draw the 50 to 100 spe­cial op­er­a­tions troops from ob­ser­va­tion posts near the Syria-Tur­key bor­der, in­sist­ing that they had not given Tur­key a green light to in­vade and call­ing on Ankara to safe­guard civil­ians.

“Tur­key has com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing civil­ians, pro­tect­ing re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, in­clud­ing Chris­tians, and en­sur­ing no hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis takes place,” the Trump state­ment said, adding that Ankara “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.”

But there was no con­fir­ma­tion from Turk­ish of­fi­cials its op­er­a­tion in­cluded such sweep­ing goals.

Trump also seemed to down­play the risk from Is­lamic State pris­on­ers, say­ing if they es­caped they would go to Euro­pean coun­tries, which he claimed had re­fused re­quests to take back de­tainees who had joined the fight in Syria from Europe. He did not spec­ify which coun­tries.

Mean­while, a se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial said that the pull­back or­dered by Trump has “ef­fec­tively frozen” wider U.S. op­er­a­tions against Is­lamic State in north­east­ern Syria, and that top U.S. com­man­ders are ex­pect­ing to be or­dered soon to with­draw the roughly 1,000 troops still in the Syr­ian re­gion. Kur­dish fight­ers in the U.S.-al­lied Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces had shifted their fo­cus to op­pos­ing the Turk­ish in­va­sion.

Trump said at the White House that the Pen­tagon had moved “a cer­tain num­ber of ISIS fight­ers that are par­tic­u­larly bad” to make sure they didn’t es­cape with the Kurds now fight­ing Tur­key. No de­tails were im­me­di­ately avail­able.

Michael Morell, a for­mer act­ing di­rec­tor of CIA, wrote in a tweet Wed­nes­day that Tur­key’s plan was to cre­ate a zone inside Syria in ar­eas now con­trolled by the Kurds. Ankara “will cre­ate a buf­fer along the bor­der be­tween it and the Kurds, push­ing Kurds from their homes south. The Turks will in­stall in this area Syr­ian Arab refugees now in Tur­key. As this un­folds, the Turks will com­mit atroc­i­ties and Kurds will die.”

BULENT KILIC/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The Turk­ish army’s tank drives to­wards the bor­der with Syria near Ak­cakale in San­li­urfa prov­ince on Tues­day.

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