Civilians flee Syrian border towns as Turkish warplanes, artillery begin offensive

09/10/2019 - 22:49 Published in News/General

Turkey attacked Kurdish forces positions in northeast Syria on Wednesday, pounding them with air strikes and artillery barrages in a cross-border military operation just days after U.S. troops pulled back from the area.

Thousands of people fled the Syrian town of Ras al Ain toward Hasaka province, held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The Turkish air strikes killed at least five civilians and three SDF fighters, and wounded dozens of civilians, the SDF said.

Reuters journalists on the Turkish side of the frontier watched as explosions struck the Syrian town of Tel Abyad. After dark, the red flare of rockets could be seen fired across the border into Tel Abyad, and flames burned near the town.
A witness reached by telephone said civilians were fleeing en masse.

Explosions also rocked Ras al Ain, just across the border from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar, according to a reporter for CNN Turk. The sound of warplanes could be heard above and smoke rose from buildings in Ras al Ain, he said.

The assault on the Kurds - for years Washington’s main allies on the ground in Syria - is potentially one of the biggest shifts in years in an eight-year war that has drawn in global and regional powers. The Kurds played a leading role in capturing territory from Islamic State, and now control the largest swathe of Syria outside of Bashar al-Assad’s government’s hands.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull forces out of the way was denounced by some Kurds as a “stab in the back” and strongly criticised in Washington, even by loyal senior figures in his own Republican Party.

Trump called the Turkish assault a “bad idea” and said he did not endorse it. He expected Turkey to protect civilians and religious minorities and prevent a humanitarian crisis, he said.

But one of Trump’s closest allies, Senator Lyndsey Graham, said failing to support the Kurds would be “the biggest mistake of his presidency”.

Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican hawk, said: “The U.S. is abandoning our ally the Kurds, who fought ISIS (Islamic State) on the ground and helped protect the U.S. homeland. This decision aids America’s adversaries, Russia, Iran, and Turkey, and paves the way for a resurgence of ISIS.”