Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced Wednesday the Turkish military and a Syrian militia have begun a military operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
Dubbing the operation “Peace Spring,” Erdoğan said the goal is to “prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area.”
“#OperationPeaceSpring will neutralize terror threats against Turkey and lead to the establishment of a safe zone, facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their homes,” Erdoğan tweeted.
#OperationPeaceSpring will neutralize terror threats against Turkey and lead to the establishment of a safe zone, facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their homes.
We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists.
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) October 9, 2019
The start of the operation comes after President Trump said U.S. troops that were operating in northern Syria would retreat in a move that has widely been seen as Trump giving his blessing for Erdoğan to proceed.
The U.S. military relied on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is led by the Kurds, as the local ground force fighting ISIS. But Ankara considers the Syrian Kurds terrorists who are an extension of a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.
Ankara has long threatened to attack the Kurds in Syria, but held off while U.S. troops acted as a buffer.
U.S. lawmakers in both parties blasted Trump’s decision as abandoning the United States’ Kurdish partners to be slaughtered by Turkey, sending a chilling message to any would-be U.S. partners going forward.
They have also raised fears the chaos will lead to an ISIS resurgence, including the likelihood that ISIS prisoners will be escape when their guards shift focus to fighting Turkey.
Trump defended his decision by saying it is time to end U.S. participation in “ridiculous Endless Wars” and “come home,” though Pentagon and White House officials have said U.S. troops are moving to bases elsewhere in Syria rather than withdrawing from the country.
At about the same time as Erdoğan announced the start of the offensive, the SDF said “civilian areas” were being struck by Turkish warplanes.
“Turkish warplanes have started to carry out airstrikes on civilian areas. There is a huge panic among people of the region,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted.
Prior to Trump’s decision to pull back from northeast Syria, the United States was working on setting up a safe zone near Syria’s border with Turkey to assuage Ankara’s concerns.
As part of setting up the safe zone, the SDF pulled its defenses from the area. Without its defenses, the SDF on Wednesday asked the United States to implement a no fly zone.
“The #SDF showed good faith to the security mechanism agreement between the #US & #Turkey. This left our people defenseless,” the SDF’s Coordination and Military Operations Center tweeted. “We ask the US & the @Coalition for a NO FLY ZONE to stop the attacks on innocent people.”