Syria’s Kurds battled to hold off a Turkish invasion yesterday after air strikes and shelling launched a long-threatened operation that could reshape the country and trigger a humanitarian crisis.
United States President Donald Trump tried to justify the de facto green light he gifted his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for an assault seen as a blatant betrayal of Washington’s erstwhile Kurdish allies.
Syrian Kurdish forces lost 11,000 personnel and played a key role in the years-long battle to eliminate the “caliphate” the Islamic State group had set up in the region. In scenes all too familiar since the start of Syria’s war more than eight years ago, thousands of civilians were seen fleeing their homes yesterday in vehicles or on foot with their belongings on their backs.
The broad offensive which Erdogan dubbed “Operation Peace Spring” drew international outrage and warnings, including from within Trump’s own camp, and will be discussed in an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council later yesterday.
After launching the assault with air strikes and intense artillery fire, the Turkish military and its Syrian proxies crossed the border into Kurdish-controlled areas. Turkey was yet to unleash its full military might however, with the Syrian Democratic Forces, the autonomous Kurds’ de facto army holding off two incursion attempts.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s foreign minister said Turkish troops intend to move some 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep into northern Syria and that its operation will last until all “terrorists are neutralized,” a reference to Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Briefing a small group of journalists yesterday, Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkish troops and Syrian opposition fighters would be strengthened with more security force officers, including police, if needed. He did not comment on how many troops had crossed the border or how many jets were involved in the offensive.
The minister reiterated that Turkey aimed to create a safe zone that would allow the “voluntary” and “safe” return of Syrian refugees or displaced people.