Turkey launches military offensive in Syria
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."
Two civilians were killed and two others injured in the Turkish aerial bombardment on the village of Misharrafa, west of Ras al-Ain, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) tweeted.
Turkish artillery shelling is targeting areas near the Bouzra dam in Derik, which provides water to hundreds of thousands of civilians in northern Syria, according to the SDF.
The bombardment has also hit civilian homes in the village of Sikarkah, in eastern Qamishli, the SDF said in a post on Twitter.
It is absolute gridlock here in northern Syria, near the border with Turkey, as people try to flee to safety with little idea of what the Turkish military has in store for them.
For civilians living in this Kurdish stronghold, it's their worst nightmare playing out before their eyes.
There was a hope up until the last minute that perhaps the US would stand in support of its Kurdish allies and prevent this incursion from happening.
But now there is widespread fear of what Turkey -- which views the YPG-controlled zone as an existential threat -- will do next.
So far, Turkish airstrikes have largely hit Kurdish military targets, but once you have mortars flying, there is always a potential for civilian casualties. We witnessed what appeared to be six different strikes and a fire at what locals told us was a cotton factory.
Chaotic scenes are unfolding now, with roads choked with hundreds of fleeing families, motorcycles piled with five to six people, mattresses strapped to cars. Thick black smoke can be seen rising from a number of different areas.
People don’t know where they will go, where they will sleep tonight, or what they can expect from this Turkish operation.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a key US partner in the fight against ISIS, have suspended their operations countering the militant group, according to a US official.
The SDF said it had halted counter-ISIS operations to focus on the Turkish offensive.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted Wednesday that the forces would "clash against the Turks to stop them from crossing the border.
"We will use all our possibilities against Turkish aggression," Bali said.
Turkey's military offensive comes just days after the Trump administration announced it was pulling US troops back from the border area. Here's tick tock of events that led up to the operation:
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Turkey was ready to launch a long-planned "ground and air operation" aimed at clearing US-backed Kurdish forces -- a key ally of the US in the fight against ISIS -- away from its border.
- US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that "we've made clear that this conflict shouldn't be militarized." However, a US official familiar with operations in Syria told CNN that it was "very likely" Turkey would try something soon.
- Following a phone call between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Erdogan, the White House said that Turkey would soon begin its offensive in northern Syria -- and that "US forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial 'caliphate,' will no longer be in the immediate area."
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that US troops had begun pulling back from some areas in northeast Syria.
- Trump's decision to allow Erdogan to move forward with the operation was criticized by people across the political spectrum for effectively "abandoning" Kurdish allies. A Pentagon spokesperson said Monday that the Department of Defense did not endorse the planned operation.
- Erdogan announced the launch of a military offensive into northeastern Syria. Eyewitnesses and CNN teams have reported shelling and airstrikes on the Turkey-Syria border.