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