Turkey launches military offensive in Syria
The Turkish Defense Ministry confirmed the launch of its land operation in northeast Syria today.
“The Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian National Army have launched the land operation into the east of the Euphrates river as part of the Operation Peace Spring," the ministry said in a tweet.
Some context: Turkey is reportedly targeting the US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — a key US ally in the war against ISIS. Just hours after Turkey launched its offensive, the SDF said that they had suspended their anti-ISIS operations in order to deal with the attack, a senior US defense official told CNN.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to President Trump today about Turkey's military operation in Syria.
“The leaders expressed their serious concern at Turkey’s invasion of north east Syria and the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe in the region,” the Downing Street statement said.
Some background: Days ago Trump announced that US troops would pull back from the area, prompting much criticism and fear over violence in the region.
Turkey's military launched an offensive in northeast Syria today to push US-backed Kurdish forces away from its border.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which administers a semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq, said it does not have the capacity to accommodate all of the people who are expected to be displaced as a result of the Turkish offensive.
"We do not have the capacity to absorb this,” KRG spokesperson Jutyar Adil told CNN, urging the international community to intervene with support.
The KRG said Wednesday that the consequences of the military escalation "go beyond Syria's borders," warning of the return of ISIS and mass displacement.
"The regional government has always been stressing about the crisis and must be resolved through a strict political solution that guarantees the rights of all Syrians, including the Kurdish people," the statement said.
The Turkish offensive has already had a "detrimental effect" on US-led counter ISIS operations, a senior US defense official told CNN.
"They have effectively stopped," the source said of the US campaign against the militant group.
According to the source, Turkey is targeting the US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — a key US ally in the war against ISIS. Just hours after Turkey launched its offensive, the SDF said that they had suspended their anti-ISIS operations in order to deal with the attack.
The Turkish operation "has challenged our ability to build local security forces, conduct stabilization operations and the Syrian Democratic Forces [ability] to guard over 11,000 dangerous ISIS fighters. We are just watching the second largest army in NATO attack one of our best counter-terrorism partners,” the source said.
The responsibility for ISIS fighters being held in northeastern Syria cannot fall to Turkey alone, a senior adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
"In terms of the ISIS fighters … held in prisons, which are closer to our border, of course initially our priority is to provide security and stability in the areas we move into," Erdogan's senior adviser Gülnur Aybet said. "We will safeguard any areas that contain these prisons. However, we would like the management of the camps, in particular, something that has to be undertaken as a joint effort with the international community."
We never said we would shoulder this burden all by ourselves," Aybet added.
Her comments were a stark contrast to a statement released by the White House Wednesday, in which US President Donald Trump said that Turkey was "now responsible for ensuring all ISIS fighters being held captive remain in prison and that ISIS does not reconstitute in any way, shape, or form."
"We expect Turkey to abide by all of its commitments, and we continue to monitor the situation closely," Trump said.
Aybet suggested that, when Erdogan visits the White House next month, the two leaders will discuss further details about dealing with the ISIS fighters.
The United Nations Security Council will meet privately Thursday morning to discuss the situation in Syria, two UN diplomats tell CNN.
The announcement comes as Turkey begins its military offensive in northern Syria to move US-backed Kurdish forces away from its border.
Five European countries -- including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom – requested the meeting, according to one of the diplomats.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is "very concerned" by developments in northern Syria and called for civilians to be protected "in accordance with international law," Guterres' deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, told reporters Wednesday.
"As the Security Council reaffirmed yesterday in its presidential statement, any solution must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria,” Haq added.
NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has called for Turkey -- a member of the alliance -- to "act with restraint."
Speaking at a press briefing in Rome Wednesday, Stoltenberg said that Turkey has "legitimate security concerns," has suffered "horrendous terrorist attacks," and plays host to "millions of Syrian refugees." But Stoltenberg added that he counted on Turkey "to act with restraint and to ensure that any action it may take in Northern Syria is proportionate and measured."
Throwing more confusion on the situation in Syria, US President Donald Trump released a statement saying the US “does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea.”
Here is Trump's full statement:
This morning, Turkey, a NATO member, invaded Syria. The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea. There are no American soldiers in the area. From the first day I entered the political arena, I made it clear that I did not want to fight these endless, senseless wars—especially those that don’t benefit the United States. Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment. In addition, Turkey is now responsible for ensuring all ISIS fighters being held captive remain in prison and that ISIS does not reconstitute in any way, shape, or form. We expect Turkey to abide by all of its commitments, and we continue to monitor the situation closely.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have issued statements underlining their concern about the lives of tens of thousands of people in northeastern Syria who are living in camps, detention or in their own villages and towns.
More than 100,000 people are currently being hosted in camps in Hasakah, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.
"The humanitarian space needs to be preserved so that people can receive the help they need,” said Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC director for Near and Middle East in Geneva.
The IRC said it was also concerned about how the Turkish offensive might impact life-saving humanitarian services for people living in the region.
"As Turkish offensive in Syria begins, the IRC is deeply concerned about the lives and livelihoods of the two million civilians in northeast Syria who have already survived ISIS brutality and multiple displacements," the IRC said in a statement.
"A military offensive could displace 300,000 people and disrupt life-saving humanitarian services, including the IRC's."