AKCAKALE, Turkey (AP) — Turkey on Wednesday launched an attack on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, which included shelling, heavy artillery and a ground offensive. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the campaign after President Donald Trump made the abrupt decision on Sunday to withdraw U.S. soldiers to allow the operation.
Trump’s decision, which has been fiercely opposed by both parties’ politicians in the United States, represented a shift in U.S. policy that essentially abandons Syrian Kurdish fighters who were the only U.S. allies within Syria in the war against the extremist group Islamic State. After Erdogan announced the offensive, Trump said the operative was «a bad idea.» There was an atmosphere of panic in the streets of the residential areas surrounding the borders as civilians fled on foot, in cars and with motorbiketaxis full of mattresses and a few belongings. Among them were people who a few years ago had fled the State group Islámico.Al minus seven civilians and one member of Turkish-led forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), were killed due to Turkish bombings, they said Kurdish activists and observers.
Shortly after starting the Turkish operation inside Syria, local residents cheer and applaud a convoy of Turkish forces passing through the village of Akcakale, Sanliurfa province in southern Turkey, on the Turkey-Syria border on Wednesday, October 9 2019. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Near the village of Qamishli, plumes of smoke were seen rising in the area around the border after activists reported sounds of explosions nearby. By nightfall, there were already fires in one of the town’s neighborhoods, apparently because of the artillery fire. Turkey’s Defense Ministry said its ground forces, supported by allied Syrian opposition forces, had crossed the border into Syria. Shortly after, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said its fighters had repelled the Turkish ground attack in Tal Abyad.Prior to that, a US defense official and a Kurdish official in Syria said the SDF had suspended the attacks on Islamic States group because of the Turkish operation. Officials who confirmed the suspension spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give details on the situation. The Turkish campaign, in which a NATO member country is bombing an area where hundreds of American soldiers are deployed, was immediately criticized and Europe called for caution. In his statement, Trump emphasized that U.S. soldiers were not attacked in the area.» Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terrorist corridor on our southern border, and bring peace to the area,» Erdogan said in a tweet when he announced what he called «Operation Peace Spring.» Erdogan added that Turkish armed forces, along with Ankara-backed Syrian fighters, known as the Syrian National Army, had begun to eradicate what it described as a «threat of terrorism» against Turkey.Moments before the announcement of Erdogan, Turkish planes began bombing positions of Syrian Kurds in the village of Ras al Ayn, according to Turkish media and Syrian activists. The sound of the explosions could be heard in Turkey.It was difficult to know what was destroyed in the early hours of the operation.
This photo taken from the turkish side of the Turkish-Syrian border in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province in southern Turkey, shows a column of smoke inside Syria during a shelling by Turkish forces on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Bali said Turkey’s warplanes were attacking «civilian areas» and causing «a huge panic» in the region. Among those killed by the Turkish bombings were two Syrian Christians in Qamishli, a couple and their son, a man in a village on the outskirts of the village of Tal Abyad and a child in a village west of Qamishli, indicated the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights , based in Great Britain.