Turkey to pro­ceed on plans for Syria

Turkey says it won’t back down from in­cur­sion, de­spite Trump’s warn­ing

The Dallas Morning News - - FRONT PAGE - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

Pho­tos by Bu­lent Kilic/agence France­presse

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.

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