Turkey has bombed the Syrian-Iraqi border in anticipation of an offensive against Kurdish forces after the Trump administration’s move to pull U.S. troops from northeast Syria, Reuters reported Tuesday.
Turkish officials told the outlet that their military on Monday night struck the border to prevent the Kurds from using the transit route to fortify their positions in the area. A security official said the intention was to cut off the road “before the operation in Syria.”
“In this way, the group’s transit to Syria and support lines, including ammunition, are shut off,” the official said.
The Kurdish fighters, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have been instrumental in helping the United States defeat Islamic State fighters in Syria.
Ankara, however, views the SDF as a terrorist insurgency connected to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a far-left militant and political organization that has been involved in armed conflict with Turkey.
The Turkish government has long threatened a military strike against the SDF, which hopes to set up its own autonomous state near the Turkish border.
It appears that threat will be acted upon soon, after the White House announced late Sunday that Turkey would be moving forward with an offensive into Syria and that U.S. troops would not be in the “immediate area” when it happens.
The surprise decision is viewed as an implicit endorsement of Turkey’s plans for the offensive and has been widely criticized in Washington – including by several Republicans who are typically aligned with Trump – as an abandonment of a U.S. ally.
Following the announcement, U.S. forces left two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain.
But administration officials on Monday insisted the move is not giving Turkey a “green light” to invade Syria and that the move “does not constitute a withdrawal from Syria.”
Trump the same day warned he would “obliterate” Ankara’s economy if it did anything “off limits,” but then on Tuesday defended the country as a NATO ally and strong trade partner.
It was unclear the extent of damage or whether there were any casualties following Turkey’s strike on Monday night.
The strike was a joint operation by Turkey’s intelligence service and the military, but details were contradictory, with one official telling Reuters it was an air strike, and another describing the move as making the area “unusable through various means.”
Ankara also said its plans for an offensive into Syria are now in place.
“The [Turkish Armed Forces] will never tolerate the establishment of a terror corridor on our borders. All preparations for the operation have been completed,” the Turkish Defense Ministry said.
Should the U.S. military fully withdraw from northeast Syria, the Kurdish forces indicate that they might start talks with Russia or the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to fill a security vacuum.
“At that time we may hold talks with Damascus or the Russian side to fill the void or block the Turkish attack,” said Syrian Kurdish official Badran Jia Kurd.
Up until Monday, U.S. troops had effectively prevented a Turkish offensive by remaining in the area, acting as a shield for Kurdish forces.