Turkey ready for Syria offensive despite mixed signals from Trump
Turkey said on Tuesday it was ready for an offensive into northern Syria, while U.S. President Donald Trump insisted the United States had not abandoned its Kurdish allies by pulling forces out of the area.
Istanbul sent more armored vehicles to the border with Syria on Tuesday, an AFP correspondent said. Dozens of vehicles made up a large convoy seen in the Turkish town of Akcakale in Sanliurfa province.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Turkish forces were attacking near the border.
“The Turkish military is shelling one of our points on #SereKaniye Border with Turkey,” the SDF said in a tweet late Tuesday, referencing the key border town of Ras al-Ain.
It was one of the places from which U.S. troops withdrew on Monday, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters gather near the Syrian-Turkish border north of Aleppo, October 7, 2019. /VCG Photo
“There were no injuries to our forces. We didn’t respond to this unprovoked attack. We are prepared to defend the people and the people of NE #Syria,” the SDF said.
Border skirmishes between Turkish and Kurdish forces have taken place before, and there was no indication the latest reported shelling was part of a broader offensive.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government has welcomed the upheaval, spying an opportunity to bring the country’s Kurds back into its fold.
The Kurds have been “tossed aside” by Washington, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper.
Trump rejected that interpretation, tweeting: “We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters.”
Britain said it was “deeply concerned” by Turkey’s plans to attack Kurdish fighters, who lead the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Turkish Armed Forces’ armored vehicles carrying Turkish commandos move toward Syrian border as they are being dispatched to support the units at border in Kilis, Turkey, October 7, 2019. /VCG Photo
The SDF says it lost some 11,000 fighters as the main frontline force against ISIL.
A spokesman for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said London had been “consistently clear with Turkey that unilateral military action must be avoided as it would destabilize the region”.
Iran, a key backer of the Syrian government, also opposed a Turkish incursion, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urging “respect for Syria’s territorial integrity” in a call to Ankara.
Russia’s security council said it was important to avoid hindering the peace process in Syria.
Turkey says it wants to establish a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border where it could send back some of the 3.6 million refugees from the eight-year civil war.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that the operation into Syria could “come any night without warning.”