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Turkey launches military offensive in Syria

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What we know about the Turkish military offensive

Here’s the latest on the Turkish military offensive in northeast Syria:

  • What’s happening: Turkey says its offensive is continuing “successfully as planned” in northern Syria, amid reports of airstrikes on towns.
  • Why now? The offensive was launched on Wednesday, just days after US President Donald Trump announced that US troops would pull back from the area, prompting a storm of criticism.
  • Possible sanctions: Trump said it’s possible he applies tough sanctions on Turkey for its military action in Syria.

State official: Trump tasked State with trying to broker a ceasefire

A senior State Department official said that President Trump had tasked the department with “trying to see if there are areas of commonality between the two sides, if there’s a way that we could find our way to a ceasefire.”

The official said that since Trump’s call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday, there had been “various diplomatic exchanges that President Erdogan has in various ways been involved on.” Two officials confirmed on Wednesday that US Ambassador to Turkey David Satterfield attended a meeting at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs that morning.

The senior State Department official Trump is “trying to find common ground to come up with a ceasefire, come up with a way to bridge the gap between the [Kurdish People’s Protection Units] wing of the [Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party] and Turkey.” He said the President would “most prefer” to do “a negotiated settlement.”

The official said there had been no conversations between the US and the Syrian government on the Turkish military operation.

Some background: The US already tried to mediate a deal called “The Security Mechanism” between the Turks and the Kurds. The US convinced the Kurds to remove their troops from the border and dismantle their defensive fortifications as part of the deal aimed at appeasing Turkey. The US also gave Turkey access to airspace and intelligence on the area, intelligence that was likely used by Turkey to formulate its target lists. The US said it was working days before Turkey launched the offensive.

Senior State Department official: "I'm extremely distressed" about Turkish military operation

A senior State Department official expressed serious concerns about the Turkish military operation into northeast Syria, but did not go as far as to criticize President Trump pulling back troops from the region.

“It endangers our allies in the fight against terror, the [Syrian Democratic Forces],” the official said. “It undercuts our efforts to defeat ISIS by drawing these SDF forces away from the battle in the south and frankly forcing our troops to focus on the military aspects of the invasion.”

“It creates tremendous insecurity for the entire region,” the official added.

Asked about comments from allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia expressing distress that the operation advantages Iran, the official said they were “extremely distressed.” 

“I’m extremely distressed about this too. I’m right up there with the Saudis and Bibi Netanyahu. This was a very big mistake and this has very big implications for all of our security. I don’t know of anybody who isn’t upset with it,” they said.

The official called it a “very, very dramatic, very, very dangerous situation.” 

Trump says sanctions possible on Turkey

President Trump, speaking from the White House today, said it’s possible he applies tough sanctions on Turkey for its military action in northern Syria.

He did not commit to taking such action, but said it was possible the US does something strong with regard to sanctions. 

Trump said the US has a good relationship with the Kurds, and expressed hope the US could mediate the situation.

Trump tweets Syria options as GOP frustration grows

President Trump claims that the US “did our job perfectly” in Syria.

The President’s tweet comes as Republican frustration grows with his decision earlier this week to allow Turkey to attack Kurdish forces who fought alongside Americans to defeat ISIS. 

In a series of tweets, he lays out three US options: “Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!”

Read his tweets:

Where US troops are in Syria

For now, there is no plan to withdraw US forces beyond the approximate 30 KM zone, according to a defense official. 

The forces that were repositioned were in areas roughly between Talabyad and Rasa al Ayn, the source said.  US forces for now remain near Manbij and at the Kobani airfield and other locations. 

US troops have pulled back from the border but are still co-located with Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) elsewhere in Syria and remain in other places such as Manbij. While they are still “working” with the SDF as reported, counter-ISIS operations have been suspended.

Turkey has been cut off from US/coalition intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance feeds, however they had access to those until a few days before the attack and likely made use of that intelligence for target selection.

Norway suspends new arms sales applications to Turkey and calls for end to Turkish military operation

Norway will suspend new applications for military product export licenses to Turkey for the time being, said Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide in a statement today.

Norway is also reviewing all current licenses for military and multi-use military export licenses in Turkey, according to the statement.

She added, “We are particularly concerned about the humanitarian situation of the civilian population.”

As a fellow NATO country, Norway has until now allowed the export of weapons, ammunition and other military equipment to Turkey, which has been a NATO member since 1952.  

US Ambassador says Trump didn't endorse Turkey's military action into Syria

US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft told reporters that Trump did not endorse Turkey’s military action in Syria.

“We just finished our consultations on Syria, and as the President has made abundantly clear, the US has not in any way endorsed the decision of the government of Turkey to mount a military incursion into northeast Syria,” Craft told reporters.

Referring to the Kurdish population and religious minorities, she added:

European nations call on Turkey to cease unilateral military action in Syria

The governments of Germany, Belgium, France, Poland, the United Kingdom and Estonia (collectively known as the EU6) call upon Turkey to cease unilateral military action in north-east Syria.

The EU6 do not believe military action “will address Turkey’s underlying security concerns,” according to a statement read to journalists by Ambassador Jürgen Schulz of Germany following Security Council closed-door consultations.

“Renewed armed hostilities in the north-east will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements which will further increase the number of refugees and IDPs in Syria and in the region,” the statement said.

The EU6 also called for “the protection of civilians and unhindered, safe and sustainable humanitarian access throughout Syria.”

France summons Turkish ambassador over Syria offensive

The French Foreign Ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador in Paris on Thursday to discuss Turkey’s offensive in northeast Syria, a French diplomatic source tells CNN.

Additionally, French President Emmanuel Macron called on Turkey to halt their operation, saying it risked allowing ISIS to rebuild their caliphate.

More than 60,000 people displaced in northeastern Syria

More than 60,000 people have been displaced in camps in northeastern Syria following the start of Turkey’s military offensive, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC)

“In the last 24 hours it’s reported that more than 64,000 people fled their homes in northeast Syria. If the offensive continues it’s possible a total of 300,000 people could be displaced to already overstretched camps and towns still recovering from the fight against ISIS,” said Misty Buswell, IRC’s communications director for the Middle East.

The IRC is on the ground and continuing to work to provide humanitarian aid. 

The following video features CNN’s Clarissa Ward on the ground in Northern Syria answering questions about the Turkish military offensive:

Macron say Turkish offensive risks recreating ISIS caliphate

French President Emmanuel Macron called on Turkey to end its offensive in northeast Syria and said the operation “risks helping [ISIS] rebuild its caliphate,” CNN affiliate BFM reported.

Speaking Thursday in Lyon, Macron said “I strongly condemn the unilateral military offensive in Syria and I call on Turkey to end it as quickly as possible.”

“This risks helping [ISIS] rebuild its caliphate, and this is a responsibility that Turkey will hold,” he added.

Syrian National Army says 13 rival Kurdish fighters killed in Turkish military offensive

Thirteen rival Kurdish fighters have been killed in Turkey’s military offensive in Syria, according to a statement from Major Yosef Hamoud, a spokesman for the Syrian National Army, a Turkey-backed rebel group. 

“The forces of the National Army managed to liberate the village of Kashto Tahtani in the western side of Ras al-Ain city, also we managed to liberate Beer Ashek and Hamida villages in Tal Abyad countryside,” Hamoud said in a statement. 

“Until now 13 members of PYD/PKK have been killed in ‘Peace Spring Operation,’ ” the spokesman said.

The PKK refers to the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party, a designated terrorist group in Turkey and the US. The PYD refers to the Kurdish opposition party known as the Democratic Union Party. Turkey considers the PYD to be a branch of the PKK.

Dismay among US military over Syria decision

CNN has spoken to several US military officers who have expressed dismay at President Trump’s decision to reposition a small number of troops from northern Syria, believing it effectively gave the green light to the Turkish action. None would go on the record because of the sensitivity of speaking publicly.

Some of those expressing dismay are inside the ranks of special operations forces who have worked for years with the Syrian Democratic Forces and feel loyalty to stay in place and help them. 

Several officials also say for now the White House wants to be control of the messaging on this, which is why the Pentagon has not spoken publicly.

A senior US defense official told CNN on Wednesday that Turkey’s offensive into Syria “has already had a detrimental effect on our counter-ISIS operations; they have effectively stopped.”  

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.

India says Turkey's military offensive could undermine fight against terror

A picture taken in Akcakale at the Turkish border with Syria on Thursday shows smokes rising from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad.

India has joined a growing number of countries criticizing Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria, according to a statement released Thursday.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs said “Turkey’s actions can undermine stability in the region and the fight against terrorism.”

The statement added: “Its action also has the potential for causing humanitarian and civilian distress. We call upon Turkey to exercise restraint and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.”

Turkish officials blame Kurdish fighters for mortar attacks

The Turkish border towns of Akcakale and Ceylanpinar were hit by several mortar rounds, killing two people and injured 46 others, according to a statement released by the governor’s office in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa.

“As a result of mortar and rocket shells hitting Akcakale and Ceylanpinar, 9-month-old Syrian Muhammed Omar and an officer working for Tax Office, 46-year-old Cihan Gunes has been martyred,” the statement said.

Officials earlier told CNN said that several mortar rounds landed in the garden between the governor’s office and the riot police headquarters in Akcakale.

Turkish operation will "impact security" in Iraq

Syrian Arab and Kurdish civilians arrive at Tall Tamr town, in the Syrian northwestern Hasakeh province, after fleeing Turkish bombardment on the northeastern town along the Turkish-Syria border on Thursday.

The Iraqi government has expressed concern over the current situation in northern Syria, saying that the Turkish military operation will complicate the situation in Syria and “directly impact security in Iraq,” according to a statement released by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

Iraq also warned that a large number of militants and displaced people could enter Iraq from Syria following the Turkish military operation there.

Netanyahu: “Israel strongly condemns Turkish invasion of Kurdish areas in Syria”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken out sharply against Turkey’s ongoing military operation in Syria, and said Israel stands ready to give humanitarian aid to the “gallant Kurdish people.”

“Israel strongly condemns the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish areas in Syria and warns against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies,” Netanyahu said, speaking on the issue for the first time since US President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw US forces from Syria.

The Israeli premier, who is one of the few world leaders to openly call for the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, did not specify how Israel would provide humanitarian aid. Israel has no diplomatic relations with Iraq or Syria, while relations with Turkey have been strained for several years. 

In breaking his silence, Netanyahu made no specific mention of Trump, a close ally of the Israeli PM.

UK Foreign Secretary calls for restraint amid Turkish military operation in northern Syria

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Thursday that he had spoken to his Turkish equivalent, Mevlut Cavusoglu, of the UK’s disappointment over Turkey’s offensive in Syria.

In a post on Twitter, Raab said the military operation risks “greater humanitarian suffering and undermines the focus on countering Daesh [ISIS].”

Moscow intends to seek dialogue between Turkey and Syria

File photograph of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Baghdad on October 7.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday that Moscow will seek to promote discussion between Damascus and Ankara, as well as between Syrian authorities and Kurdish organizations, state news agency TASS reported.

“Now we will seek the need to establish a dialogue between Turkey and Syria. We have reason to believe that it is in the interests of both parties. At the same time, we will negotiate that nevertheless the contacts will be established between Damascus and Kurdish organizations that reject extremism and terrorist methods activities,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov also said the situation in northern Syria could be resolved on the basis of current agreements.

“From the very beginning of the crisis in Syria, we have always drawn attention to the fact that we understand the Turkish Republic’s legitimate concerns about the security of its borders. At the same time, we have strongly emphasized the need to resolve these concerns within the framework of the agreements that exist between Damascus and Ankara, the so-called 1998 Adan Agreement,” Lavrov said, according to TASS.

He continued, “Unfortunately, the effective implementation of this agreement, which involved joint efforts to curb terrorist attacks on the border between Turkey and Syria, was complicated by the Americans and their coalition on the east bank of the Euphrates.”

Mortar rounds have landed inside Turkey

The Turkish border town of Akcakale was hit by several mortar rounds and wounded several people on Thursday, Turkish officials told CNN. 

Officials said several mortars landed in the garden between the governor’s office and the riot police headquarters. A public worker who was inside the building said two mortars landed by the entrance to the governor’s office and at least six civilians were injured. 

“That of course will be deeply unwelcome news for those living here, who have seen the offensive get underway and wondered quite what the Syrian Kurdish response would be, if indeed those mortar shells were fired by the Syrian Kurds, which seems like the most likely conclusion,” said CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh from the Turkish-Syrian border.

Erdogan threatens to send 3.6 million refugees to Europe

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a stern warning to Europeans on Thursday.

In a defiant address to lawmakers from his party just moments ago, the Turkish President said he would continue the operation in northern Syria, adding that if Europe criticizes his military moves, he would open the flood gates and allow 3.6 million Syrian refugees to travel onwards. 

Erdogan also claimed that so far 109 “terrorists” have been neutralized in northern Syria since “Operation Peace Spring” began Wednesday.

CNN’s Clarissa Ward, reporting from northern Syria, said: “He is making it very, very clear that he is not going to tolerate any criticism from the international community despite the bloodshed, and despite real questions about where this military operation ends and how many more civilians will die.”

Three civilians have been killed in northern Syria, SDF says

The Turkish Army struck a civilian convoy in the town of Tal Abyad in northern Syria on Thursday, leaving at least three civilians dead and others wounded, a spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has said in a tweet.

Mustafa Bali, the head of the Syrian Democratic Forces media office, wrote: “A civilian convoy was hit by Turkish army en route to Til Abyad. 3 civilians were killed and many others were wounded acc. to initial reports.”

Earlier, the SDF reported eight were killed on Wednesday on the first day of the Turkish military operation.

US official: Turkish operation may end up wider in scope

A US official tells CNN their assessment is that Turkey aims to clear a substantial stretch of the Syria border area. This would initially at least stretch between the towns of Ras Al Ain and Tal Abyad, about five miles deep, an area initially covered by the US-Turkish security mechanism that has since been discarded.

The official added the operation may end up wider in scope and encompass the “whole stretch” of the border.

Turkey has not stated its immediate goals or territorial objectives in this phase of the operation. However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shown the UNGA a map showing ambitions to take much of the Turkish border with Syria, and extend 18 miles deep into it.

Kurds say they have scuppered a ground incursion attempt

The Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Thursday that they had been able to repel a ground incursion attempt by the “Turkish Occupation Army” in the hub of Tal Halaf, and the town of Sluk in northeastern Syria.

“Our forces have foiled the infiltration attempts of Turkish Occupation Army,” the SDF said in a post on their press page.

Turkey hails what it says is successful operation

The Turkish Defense Ministry says operations in northern Syria are continuing “successfully” Thursday.

“Peace Spring Operation was successfully carried out by air and land during the night. The targets set were achieved. Operation continues successfully as planned,” the Turkish Ministry of Defense said in a post on Twitter Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, a convoy of Turkish and Free Syrian Army forces was seen heading towards Syria.

A CNN team on Turkey-Syria border heard and witnessed a number of explosions in the Syrian territory on the outskirts of the town of Tal Abyad. The cause of the explosion was unclear.

Who are the Kurds and why are they under attack?

Kurdish demonstrators in Strasbourg, France, protesting against Turkey's military offensive in Syria on October 9, 2019.

Hundreds of Kurdish people living in northern Syria near the Turkish border are fleeing as fires blaze behind them.

Living in a region controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a defense force mostly made up of Kurds, the frequently targeted group is once again under attack as Turkey launches an operation to move Kurdish forces away from its border.

Here’s what you need to know about the Kurds:

  • Who are they? They are an ethnic minority group, numbering about 25 to 30 million. Most are Sunni Muslims. They are united by a unique race, culture and language.
  • Where do Kurds live? In the early 20th century, the Kurds began working toward the creation of homeland known as Kurdistan – now one of the world’s largest stateless nations, a non-governmental region whose people have no official homeland or country. Today, Kurdistan is comprised of territory in five different countries: Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Armenia.
  • Discrimination in Turkey: Kurds have struggled to maintain their identity, often being referred to as “Mountain Turks” in Turkey, where they were forbidden to wear traditional Kurdish outfits or speak their language. Although Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Turkey, making up roughly 20% of the population, they are not recognized as a minority group in Turkey.
  • The Kurds and the US:  Kurdish forces were a key US ally in the fight against ISIS – which is why Trump’s decision to pull troops from the region (thus clearing the way for a Turkish attack) has been met with heavy criticism in the US.

Trump tweeted that the two ISIS members in US custody are "the worst of the worst"

Late on Wednesday night, President Donald Trump tweeted about the two high-profile ISIS members, known as the “Beatles,” who were transferred into US custody earlier that day.

“In case the Kurds or Turkey lose control, the United States has already taken the 2 ISIS militants tied to beheadings in Syria, known as the Beetles [sic], out of that country and into a secure location controlled by the U.S,” Trump tweeted.

The two members have been held in northern Syria by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for more than a year. They were taken into US custody because of growing concerns that the Turkish offensive could result in ISIS prisoners escaping from undermanned prisons in Syria, according to three US officials.

Here's what you need to know about the Turkish offensive

Turkey began a planned military offensive into northeastern Syria on Wednesday, launching airstrikes and artillery fire across the border just days after the Trump administration announced it was pulling US troops back from the area.

Let’s break down what’s happening:

  • What is the offensive? The operation is aimed at pushing Kurdish forces – who were a key ally of the US in the fight against ISIS – away from Turkey’s border, and using the area to resettle around 2 million Syrian refugees.
  • Who are the Kurds? They are an ethnic minority group that mostly occupy a region on the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Armenia. They continue to face discrimination and persecution, and have no official homeland or country.
  • What is the US’ role? The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who operate in the area are US allies. They are led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization. Trump’s decision to pull troops from the area cleared the way for Turkey to attack.
  • Why are we talking about ISIS? ISIS holds virtually no more territory after being defeated in March – but there are still ISIS fighters in hiding and in captivity under the SDF. But as Syrian Kurds prepare to fight Turkey, ISIS survivors and holding facilities will be left ungoverned – creating the risk that ISIS will try to reestablish itself.
  • What is the world saying? Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Germany, and France have condemned the Turkish operation. Several other countries like the UK and Iraq have expressed “serious concern.” The United Nations Security Council will meet privately Thursday morning to discuss the situation.

8 killed and dozens injured in the first day of Turkey's military operation

At least eight people were killed and dozens of others injured in the first day of the Turkish military operation in northern Syria, according to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“Three fighters & 5 civilians martyred. Dozens of civilians injured due to large-scale indiscriminate Turkish shelling on all-long border-line towns of northeastern Syria,” the SDF operation center tweeted late Wednesday.

The Turkish Defense Ministry said earlier today its armed forces hit a total of 181 targets in Syria.

Turkey began a planned military offensive into northeastern Syria on Wednesday, launching airstrikes and artillery fire across the border just days after the Trump administration announced it was pulling US troops back from the area.

Pompeo says Trump is "mindful that ISIS might begin to rise up again"

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington, DC on October 9, 2019.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday President Donald Trump “is mindful that ISIS might begin to rise up again.”

“There’s lots of risks from radical Islamic terrorism all around the world. It’s certainly the case that the President is mindful that ISIS might begin to rise up again,” Pompeo said, speaking on the TV show “America This Week with Eric Bolling.”

In describing the decision to pull out of Syria, Pompeo acknowledged that ISIS is not eliminated.

“That challenge still remains. But the President firmly believes it is now time that we reprioritize, that we, in fact, protect America first, and that we get our force posture in the Middle East just right,” he said.

He added that Trump had decided to move the American troops “to make sure they were out of harm’s way” after hearing that Turkey had a military offensive planned – but that the US was not going to abandon the Kurds.

When asked whether Trump could trust Turkish President Recep Erdogan, Pompeo didn’t directly answer.

Turkish foreign minister says the aim is to eliminate "terrorists" in Syria

The Turkish government has refuted accusations that its military operation is targeting Kurds.

Speaking on Turkish TV Wednesday, the country’s Foreign Minister Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that the government had no problem with its “Kurdish brothers” and its aim was to eliminate “terrorists” in Syria.

Cavusoglu also said the international community should help with this project and that he will talk with his German, British and Canadian counterparts on Thursday. 

Turkey has long been unhappy about the strong Kurdish presence in northeast Syria near the Turkish border. The country’s military has already moved into portions of areas previously held by the Kurdish-led and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), but now their longtime plan to create a buffer zone in northern Syria is underway.

Two high profile ISIS members are in US custody while concerns linger over Turkey's operation in Syria

The US military has taken custody of two high profile members of the British ISIS cell known as the “Beatles” as concerns loom over whether the ongoing Turkish offensive could result in ISIS prisoners escaping from undermanned prisons in Syria, according to three US officials.

One of the officials said the transfer was made today.

The second US official said there are plans to bring the two ISIS members, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, to the US for prosecution. The two have been held in northern Syria by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for more than a year.

The State Department accused their ISIS execution cell of “holding captive and beheading approximately two dozen hostages,” including James Foley, American journalist Steven Sotloff, and American aid worker Peter Kassig.

What we know about both ISIS members:

  • Kotey is accused by the US State Department of having “likely engaged in the group’s executions and exceptionally cruel torture” of Western journalists and aid worker hostages.
  • Elsheikh “was said to have earned a reputation for water-boarding, mock executions, and crucifixions,” according to the State Department.

The US effort to take custody has moved in fits and starts in recent months. Complications arose because of British legal issues that could prevent the UK from sharing evidence the US needs to prosecute the men.  

Given the fast moving developments in Syria, Attorney General William Barr, in recent days, asked President Trump to make this a priority and the President signed-off. 

The Washington Post first reported that the two Beatles members were transferred to US custody.

Trump agrees sanctions are needed, but only if Turkey doesn’t act in a "humane" way

President Trump responded to discussions of bipartisan legislation on sanctions against Turkey, sponsored in part by his ally Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Trump said he agreed that sanctions are needed, but only if Turkey doesn’t act in a “humane” way. 

“Lindsey and I feel differently,” the President said of Graham. “I think Lindsey would like to stay there for the next 200 years and maybe add a couple a hundred thousand people every place. But I disagree with Lindsey on that. But I will tell you that, I d