Turkey bent on Kurd as­sault

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BEIRUT — Turkey said Tues­day that it will go ahead with a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in north­east­ern Syria and won’t bow to threats over its Syria plans, an ap­par­ent re­ply to U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s warn­ing to limit the scope of its ex­pected as­sault.

Trump said ear­lier this week that the United States would step aside for an ex­pected Turk­ish at­tack on Syr­ian Kur­dish fight­ers, who have fought along­side Amer­i­cans for years. But he then threat­ened to “to­tally de­stroy and oblit­er­ate” Turkey’s econ­omy if the at­tack went too far.

The U.S. pres­i­dent later cast his de­ci­sion to pull back U.S. troops from parts of north­east Syria as ful­fill­ing a cam­paign prom­ise to with­draw from “end­less war” in the Mid­dle East. Repub­li­can crit­ics and oth­ers said he was sac­ri­fic­ing a U.S. ally, the Syr­ian Kurds, and un­der­min­ing Amer­i­can cred­i­bil­ity.

On Tues­day, Trump said Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, Turkey’s pres­i­dent, will visit the White House on Nov. 13. He de­fended Ankara as a big U.S. trad­ing part­ner, say­ing it sup­plies steel for F-35 fighter jets.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­moved Turkey from the F-35 pro­gram last sum­mer be­cause the Turks re­fused to can­cel the pur­chase of a Rus­sian air-de­fense sys­tem that is in­com­pat­i­ble with NATO forces. As part of that process, the U.S. will stop us­ing any Turk­ish sup­plies and parts by March.

Trump said Turkey un­der­stands that “any un­forced or un­nec­es­sary fight­ing by Turkey will be dev­as­tat­ing to their econ­omy and to their very frag­ile cur­rency.”

In Ankara, Turk­ish Vice Pres­i­dent Fuat Ok­tay said Turkey was in­tent on com­bat­ing Kur­dish fight­ers across its bor­der in Syria and on cre­at­ing a safe zone where Turkey could re­set­tle Syr­ian refugees.

“Where Turkey’s se­cu­rity is con­cerned, we de­ter­mine our own path, but we set our own lim­its,” Ok­tay said.

Turkey has been build­ing up re­in­force­ments on its side of the bor­der in prepa­ra­tion for an as­sault. At least two con­voys of buses car­ry­ing Turk­ish com­man­dos headed to the bor­der Tues­day, staterun Anadolu Agency re­ported. Later, re­porters saw three con­voys made up of dozens of mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing trucks car­ry­ing ar­mored per­son­nel car­ri­ers and tanks, driv­ing to­ward the bor­der town of Ak­cakale.

Turkey’s De­fense Min­istry wrote Tues­day on Twit­ter that all its prepa­ra­tions for the op­er­a­tion were com­plete.

The es­tab­lish­ment of the safe zone “is es­sen­tial for the sta­bil­ity and peace of our re­gion and for Syr­i­ans to be re­united with a se­cure life,” the min­istry said. The min­istry was al­lud­ing to Er­do­gan’s plan to re­set­tle in Syria mil­lions of Syr­ian refugees now re­sid­ing in Turkey — a mass repa­tri­a­tion that the United Na­tions and refugee ad­vo­cates have said might vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional law.

Eric Schwartz, pres­i­dent of Refugees In­ter­na­tional, said in a state­ment Tues­day that Turkey’s pro­posed re­set­tle­ment in the safe zone was “shock­ingly ir­re­spon­si­ble.”

And Ankara’s pro­posed in­va­sion likely would cre­ate new refugees, he added.

“It could dis­place hun­dreds of thou­sands of civil­ians in an area al­ready in the grip of a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis,” Schwartz said. “A Turk­ish mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion into north­east Syria will likely force in­ter­na­tional re­lief groups to evac­u­ate just when they are needed most.”

A spokesman for a Turk­ish­backed Syr­ian rebel group, called the Na­tional Army said Tues­day that its fight­ers were mak­ing prepa­ra­tions for the op­er­a­tion but had still re­ceived no or­ders to move.


In Da­m­as­cus, the Syr­ian cap­i­tal, Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Faisal Mek­dad called on the coun­try’s Kurds to re­join the govern­ment side af­ter ap­par­ently be­ing aban­doned by their Amer­i­can al­lies. His com­ments were the first Syr­ian re­ac­tion since Trump’s an­nounce­ment on Sun­day.

“The home­land wel­comes all its sons, and Da­m­as­cus will solve all Syr­ian prob­lems in a pos­i­tive way, away from vi­o­lence,” Mek­dad said in an in­ter­view with the pro-govern­ment daily Al-Watan.

The Syr­ian govern­ment “will de­fend all Syr­ian ter­ri­tory and will not ac­cept any oc­cu­pa­tion of any land or iota of the Syr­ian soil,” Mek­dad said about the ex­pected Turk­ish in­cur­sion.

Trump’s state­ment has in­fu­ri­ated the Kurds, who are ex­pect­ing an im­mi­nent Turk­ish at­tack. The Kurds stand to lose the au­ton­omy they gained from Da­m­as­cus dur­ing Syria’s civil war, now in its ninth year, and could see Turkey seize much of the ter­ri­tory where the Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion is con­cen­trated.

Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s govern­ment aban­doned the pre­dom­i­nantly Kur­dish area in north­ern Syria at the height of Syria’s civil war to fo­cus on more key ar­eas where the mil­i­tary was be­ing chal­lenged by the rebels. The U.S. then part­nered with the Kur­dish forces to fight the Is­lamic State, at the cost of thou­sands of fight­ers’ lives. The dan­ger now could prompt the Kurds to even­tu­ally ne­go­ti­ate with As­sad’s govern­ment for some form of pro­tec­tion.

U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guterres called on all par­ties in north­east­ern Syria “to ex­er­cise max­i­mum re­straint,” spokesman Stephane Du­jar­ric said.

The Kur­dish-led Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces have pledged to fight back against any Turk­ish as­sault, rais­ing the po­ten­tial for a wave of new war­fare in Syria. “We will not hes­i­tate for a mo­ment in de­fend­ing our peo­ple,” it said in a state­ment.

On Tues­day, a spokesman for the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces in­vited Trump to visit to see the progress the force and the U.S. made in north­east­ern Syria.

“We have more work to do to keep ISIS from com­ing back & make our ac­com­plish­ments per­ma­nent. If Amer­ica leaves, all will be erased,” he tweeted, re­fer­ring to the Is­lamic State.

Turkey con­sid­ers Kur­dish fight­ers in Syria ter­ror­ists and links them to a decades-old in­sur­gency in Turkey. It al­ready has started two ma­jor in­cur­sions into north­ern Syria over the past years. The first was in 2016, when Turkey and its al­lied Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fight­ers at­tacked Is­lamic State-held ar­eas west of the Euphrates River. Last year, Turkey seized the Kur­dish en­clave of Afrin, lead­ing to the dis­place­ment of some 300,000 peo­ple.

Iran on Tues­day urged Turkey not to carry out an of­fen­sive, the Ira­nian state TV re­ported. For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif called his Turk­ish coun­ter­part, Mev­lut Cavu­soglu, to ex­press Tehran’s op­po­si­tion to the an­tic­i­pated Turk­ish op­er­a­tion.

Zarif urged Turkey to re­spect Syria’s in­tegrity and sovereignt­y, the re­port said.

Iran, Turkey and Rus­sia have been work­ing to­gether as part of the so-called As­tana group on the Syr­ian civil war, talks that have run par­al­lel to U.N. ef­forts to find a so­lu­tion to the con­flict.

Trump’s an­nounce­ment threw the mil­i­tary sit­u­a­tion in Syria into fresh chaos and in­jected deeper un­cer­tainty into the re­gion.

U.S. in­volve­ment in Syria has been fraught with peril since it started in 2014 with the in­ser­tion of small num­bers of spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces to re­cruit, train, arm and ad­vise lo­cal fight­ers in com­bat against the Is­lamic State group.

Trump en­tered the White House in 2017 in­tent on get­ting out of Syria. Even be­fore the counter-Is­lamic State mil­i­tary cam­paign re­claimed the last mil­i­tant stronghold­s early this year, he de­clared vic­tory and said troops would leave.


Turk­ish sol­diers with ar­tillery pieces hold their po­si­tions Tues­day near the bor­der with Syria in San­li­urfa prov­ince. Turkey has been build­ing up re­in­force­ments on its side of the bor­der in prepa­ra­tion for an as­sault on Kur­dish fight­ers in Syria.

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