Turkey to proceed on plans for Syria
Turkey says it won’t back down from incursion, despite Trump’s warning
Turkey says it will go ahead with a military operation in northeastern Syria and will not bow to threats over its plan, an apparent reply to a U.S. warning.
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 President Donald Trump’s warning to limit the scope of its expected assault.
According to U.S. officials, Turkish troops on Tuesday were massed along the border in apparent preparation for an incursion across the border. But they said that so far there have been no signs of an actual assault beginning. At least two convoys of buses carrying Turkish commandos headed to the border, staterun Anadolu Agency reported. Later, The Associated Press 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.
The officials, who were not authorized to discuss details of military intelligence, said there are between 5,000 and 10,000 Turkish troops along the border. The officials said they expect the Turks to begin with airstrikes, followed by barrages from heavy artillery along the border and the movement of ground troops into Syria.
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 they 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.
Trump’s statements have reverberated on all sides of the divide in Syria, the Mideast and in Washington.
‘Welcomes all its sons’
In Ankara, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said Turkey was intent on combating Kurdish fighters across its border in Syria and on creating a 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.
In the Syrian capital of Damascus, 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 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 progovernment daily Alwatan.
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.
‘Will not hesitate’
Trump’s statement has infuriated the Kurds, who 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 fighters to fight the Islamic State group, 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. Secretarygeneral Antonio Guterres called on all parties in northeastern Syria “to exercise maximum restraint,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The Kurdishled Syrian Democratic Forces have pledged to fight back against any Turkish assault, raising the potential for an eruption of new warfare in Syria. “We will not hesitate for a moment in defending our people,” it said in a statement.
‘Broader’ than expected
In Washington, senior Republican leaders like senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mitch Mcconnell of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas joined Democratic colleagues in publicly criticizing the idea, with Graham even going on Fox News to label the decision “shortsighted and irresponsible.”
But of all the challenges and headaches that the Trump presidency has created for Republican legislators, what made this issue the one that caused them to break ranks?
“It’s intense and it’s broader than I expected,” said Steven Cook, a Middle East specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s surprising given that we’ve seen how loyal Republicans have been.”
Cook said he believed many of the Republican critics were acting out of concern for the repercussions on the ground.
“I think it’s fear of a return of the Islamic State more than anything else,” he said.
Artillery lined the Turkish side of the border with Syria on Tuesday. Turkey is continuing to reinforce its border as it prepares to launch a military incursion against Kurdish fighters who had been U.S. allies against Islamic State militants.
Turkish soldiers drove toward the border with Syria near Akcakale in preparation for an incursion into Syria.