2019 Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria

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Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria
Part of the Rojava conflict, Turkish involvement in the Syrian Civil War, and the Kurdish–Turkish conflict (2015–present)
Barış Pınarı Hârekatı sonrası Resulayn (Serêkanî) bombalanıyor.jpg
Ras al-Ayn bombing on 10 October 2019
Date 9 October 2019 – ongoing
(1 week and 2 days)
Location
Northern parts of Aleppo, Hasakah, and Raqqa Governorates, Syria
Status

Ongoing

Belligerents
 Turkey
Syrian National Army[1][2][3]

Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria[4][5]

 Syria (since 13 Oct.)[6][7]
Supported by:
 Russia (since 13 Oct.)[8]
Commanders and leaders
Hulusi Akar
(Minister of Defence)
Gen. Yaşar Güler
(Chief of the General Staff)[18]
Brig. Gen. İdris Acartürk[19]
(7th Commando Brigade Commander)
Hakan Fidan[20]
(MİT Chief)
Brig. Gen. Salim Idris
(Minister of Defence)
Sayf Abu Bakr
(Hamza Division Commander)[21]
Mazlum Abdi
(Commander-in-Chief)
Riad Khamis al-Khalaf
(Tal Abyad Military Council Commander)[22]
Imad Meno
(Serekaniye Military Council Commander)[23]
Muhammad Mustafa Ali "Abu Abdul"
(Manbij Military Council Commander)[24]
Units involved
See order of battle See order of battle
Strength
Turkey Unknown
14,000[25][26]
40,000-60,000 [27]
Unknown
Casualties and losses

Per SOHR:[28]
187 killed
9 killed


Per Turkey:[29]
74 killed
4 killed[a]

Per SOHR:
235 killed[30]
5 killed[31]


Per SDF:
56 killed[32]


Per Turkey:
750 killed, wounded or captured[29]
79 civilians killed in Syria by TAF and SNA[33] and 1 civilian killed in Syria by SDF (per SOHR)[34]
20 civilians killed in Turkey by SDF shelling (per Turkey)[35][36][37]
300,000+ civilians displaced (per SOHR)[38][39]
a Two additional Turkish soldiers were killed in the area of Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syria,[40] which are counted in the toll provided by SOHR.[9]

The 2019 Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria, code-named by Turkey as Operation Peace Spring (Turkish: Barış Pınarı Harekâtı), is an ongoing military operation[41] conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the Syrian National Army (SNA) against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Army in northeastern Syria.

On 6 October 2019, the Trump administration ordered American troops to withdraw from northeastern Syria, where the United States had been supporting its Kurdish allies.[42] The military operation began on 9 October 2019 when the Turkish Air Force launched airstrikes on border towns.[43] The conflict resulted in the displacement of over 130,000 people and has caused the death of more than 70 civilians in Syria and 20 civilians in Turkey.[44][45][34]

According to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the operation is intended to expel the SDF—viewed as a terrorist organization by Turkey due to its ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but considered an ally against ISIL by the United States and its allies—from the border region as well as to create a 30 km-deep (20 mi) "safe zone" in Northern Syria where some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey would resettle.[25] As the proposed settlement zone is heavily Kurdish demographically, this intention has been criticized as an attempt to force drastic demographic change,[46][47][48] a criticism denied by Turkey by saying that it only intended to "correct" the demographics that Turkish officials asserted were changed by the SDF.[48][49][50]

As a result of the offensive, SDF sources reported that over 750 ISIS affiliates were able to escape due to Turkish bombing near the Ayn Issa prison compound.[51] In contrast, Turkish sources claimed that the SDF released ISIS prisoners at the Tell Abyad prison before the arrival of Turkish forces.[52] This claim was supported by U.S. President Donald Trump, but opposed by senior U.S. officials who stated that Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces were the ones freeing ISIS prisoners.[53][54]

The Turkish operation was condemned by the European Union, the Arab League, Iran, Israel, India[55] and the United Kingdom as an assault on the territory of a sovereign and Arab state and an irresponsible destabilizing action with "potentially terrible" humanitarian consequences.[56] European Union member Hungary initially did not condemn the operation and vetoed the EU declaration, which led to a delay, before a joint declaration was eventually issued.[57] Arab League members Libya, Somalia and Qatar also did not condemn the operation.[58] Various EU states imposed arms embargoes on Turkey, and European Union nations collectively agreed to stop selling arms to Turkey, while the U.S. imposed "severe" sanctions on Turkish ministries and senior government officials in response to the offensive in Syria.[59] Donald Trump also announced his intention to level economic sanctions.[60][61]

The Syrian government initially blamed the Kurdish forces for the Turkish offensive, for their separatism and not reconciling with the government, while at the same time also condemning the foreign invasion in Syrian territory.[62] However, a few days later, the SDF reached an agreement with the Syrian government, in which it would allow the Syrian Army to enter the SDF-held towns of Manbij and Kobanî in an attempt to protect the towns from the Turkish offensive.[63][64][65] Shortly thereafter, Syrian state broadcaster SANA announced that Syrian Army troops had started to deploy to the country's north.[66] Turkey and the SNA launched an offensive to capture Manbij on the same day.[67]

On 17 October 2019, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced that the U.S. and Turkey agreed on a deal in which Turkey will agree to a ceasefire in Syria for 5 days in return for a complete withdrawal by the SDF from a safe zone south of the Syria-Turkey border.[68][69] Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that the ceasefire was a temporary pause in the operation for 5 days for SDF to withdraw from the designated 32 km (20 mi) safe zone from the Turkish border, after which if withdrawal was completed the operation would end and if not completed the operation would continue. SDF commander Mazlum Kobane said that they accepted the ceasefire only in the area between Tall Abyad and Ras al-Ayn.[17]

Background

Deaths toll for Turkey border regions north of Syria
Jan.2018-Sept.2019, before Oct. 9th offensive.[70]
Region North of Security Civilians PKK-related
Mardin Syria 7 5 25
Şanlıurfa Syria 1 0 2
Şırnak Syria30%
Iraq 70%
26 6 119
It is not known if PKK-related individuals are affiliated to Turkey PKK or Syria SDF/YPG.

Turkey has complained about the presence of PKK-related forces at its southern border since 2012, when the first YPG pockets appeared.[71] Following 2014's Battle of Kobani and the expansion of YPG/SDF forces and administration, Erdogan's government considered the force a national security threat.[72] The 2013-2015 peace process collapsed in July 2015, resulting in a full out war between PKK and Turkish forces. Like other regions in southeast Turkey, regions north of Rojava have seen numerous PKK-related deaths. According to Crisis Group death toll analysis based upon Turkey government and Turkish media publications, the border regions north of Rojava alone had 8 Turkey security forces and 5 civilians killed in PKK related violences for 2018 and 2019 before the offensive. The Şırnak region, north of both Rojava and Iraq, had 26 security forces and 6 civilians deaths over the same period.[70]

Turkey and the United States struck a deal in August 2019 after months of Turkish threats to unilaterally invade northern Syria. The United States viewed the Syrian Democratic Forces as one of its key allies in the military intervention against ISIL in Syria, while Turkey viewed the group as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which it considers a terrorist group. The agreement established the Northern Syria Buffer Zone, which aimed to dissipate tensions by addressing Turkey's security concerns with monitoring and joint patrols, while still allowing the NES to retain control over the areas that it had under its control at that time.[73][74] The agreement was received favorably by the US and SDF/NES, but Turkey was generally dissatisfied with it. Turkey's dissatisfaction led to numerous Turkish efforts to expand the area covered by the buffer zone, secure Turkish control over parts of it, or relocate millions of refugees into the zone, with all of these efforts failing in the face of firm SDF resistance and American ambivalence.[75]

Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces remove fortifications that were identified as a concern to Turkey in support of the security mechanism zone in northeast Syria, 29 September 2019.

Despite the official start of US-Turkish ground patrols, the dismantling of SDF fortifications, and the withdrawal of YPG units from parts of the buffer zone, tensions continued to rise as Turkey levied yet more demands on the SDF—all of which the SDF denied, as they felt that they had accepted a harsh compromise by permitting Turkish troops to take part in joint patrols with their American counterparts in northern Syria.[76] Turkey's dissatisfaction with the status quo of the agreement grew into open hostility, with the Turkish president openly posing an ultimatum against the SDF.[77] The ultimatum was ignored by the group and Turkey declared its "deadline" to have expired at the start of October that same year.[78]

Prelude

American soldiers greet Turkish troops for a joint patrol in Northern Syria on 4 October 2019.

Preparations for the offensive began in early October, starting with the withdrawal of American forces from positions near the Turkish border, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had a phone call with United States President Donald Trump about plans for a military operation against SDF-held areas east of the Euphrates river.[79][80] While the United States government has stated it does not support the Turkish-led offensive, the White House also announced on 6 October 2019 that it would not interfere, and would withdraw all United States personnel in the area to avoid a potential US-Turkish standoff; US Secretary of State Pompeo denied that this amounted to giving the TAF a green light to attack the SDF while a spokesman for the SDF called the withdrawal a betrayal by the United States.[42] The US also reportedly cutoff aid to the SDF in order not to arm them against a NATO ally.[81]

On 8 October 2019, the Turkish military reportedly bombed a convoy of weapons vehicles heading from Iraq into Syria destined for the SDF. However the SDF did not retaliate for the attack, and no casualties were reported as a result of the air strike.[82] On the same day Russian special forces opened a crossing on the Euphrates river between areas held by the Syrian Government and SDF in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate.[83] While the SDF stated that the Syrian military was preparing to enter the city of Manbij in northeastern Aleppo, the Syrian government responded by saying the build up of the Syrian military near Manbij was being done in order to prevent the Turkish military from entering the city.[84] On the same day, Turkish forces shelled Ras al-Ayn and fired machine guns in the vicinity of the city.[85]

The deputy secretary of defense for the Middle East, Michael Mulroy said at the Council on Foreign Relations that the United States cannot carry out its strategy in Syria without partners such as the mostly Kurdish SDF, who "bore most of the burden in destroying the Islamic State's caliphate". He said that the United States must not leave before stabilizing the area. "And if we don't do that, we will be back there, for sure, doing this again," Mulroy said. "We owe it to the people that live there, who have beared unspeakable burdens, and we owe it to the men and women that are going to come after us at the State Department, at the Defense Department, that we don't just leave this undone." [86]

Timeline

A daily map of the Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria (green is Turkish forces, red is Syrian, yellow is the SDF and orange is joint SDF/SAA). [87][88][89]

9 October 2019

The operation began on 9 October 2019, with Turkish airstrikes and howitzers targeting the SDF-held towns of Tell Abyad, Ras al-Ayn where thousands of people were reported to have fled the town,[90] Ain Issa and Qamishli. The start of the incursion was symbolic, for it was the 21st anniversary of the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan's expulsion from Syria in 1998 by the government of Hafez al-Assad.[91][92]

In response to the cross-border shelling, SDF's spokesman stated that Turkey was targeting civilians.[93] Six rockets were later launched at the Turkish city of Nusaybin as a response by the YPG, and two reportedly hit the Turkish town Ceylanpınar.[94][95][96] The SDF also announced in response to the start of the Turkish operation they would be halting anti-ISIL operations,[97] and that two civilians had been killed.[98] In response to the airstrikes, the SDF has called upon the United States to establish a no-fly zone over northern Syria.[99]

Ground offensive

By the end of the day, the Turkish military announced that the ground phase of the operation had begun from three points including Tell Abyad.[100]

10 October 2019

Before dawn on the morning of 10 October 2019, the Turkish military officially began the ground offensive against the SDF; they also announced that they had hit 181 targets in northern Syria, and 14,000 rebels backed by Turkey, including Ahrar al-Sharqiya rebel group,[26][101] Sultan Murad Division,[26] and Hamza Division,[26] are also taking part in the Turkish-led offensive.[26] The SDF said they repelled a Turkish advance into Tel Abyad.[91] Later during the day, clashes reportedly broke out between the SDF and Turkish-aligned forces near al-Bab.[102] Turkish-led forces made advances around the area of Tell Abyad and captured the villages of Tabatin and Al-Mushrifah.[103][dubious ] By nightfall Turkish Armed Forces declared control of 11 villages. As fighting went on around Tell Abyad, the Syrian National Army announced it captured the villages of Mishrifah, Al-Hawi, Barzan, Haj Ali and a farm east of the city.[104][dubious ][unreliable source?] During Turkish air strikes during the fighting, SDF stated that the Turkish air force hit a prison that was holding captured ISIL fighters.[105][106] Turkish media reported in the late evening that 174 SDF fighters were killed, wounded or captured.[107]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that day that 109 SDF fighters had been killed in the operation as well as an unspecified number of fighters wounded and captured. In a speech to lawmakers from Erdoğan's AKP, the Turkish president also threatened to flood Europe with 3.6 million refugees if European nations continued to criticize the military operation, in particular if they labelled it an invasion.[108][109]

70,000 people have fled from border towns in the SDF following Turkish bombardment.[110][111]

According to Turkey's Ministry of National Defence, one Turkish soldier was killed by the YPG.[112]

11 October 2019

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Senior Department of defense officials brief Pentagon reporters, 11 October 2019.
Joint press conference by NATO Secretary General and Turkish minister of foreign affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, 11 October 2019.

Two journalists were wounded in Nusaybin, when the building they were filming from came under fire from Qamishli across the border by SDF fighters. The incident was broadcast live on Turkish TV channels, according to Turkish sources.[113]

Three civilians were killed in Suruc by SDF shelling.[114][115] In response to the attack, Turkey shelled Kobane, a community across the border from Suruc.[116] Eight more civilians were killed later in the day in Nusaybin and 35 were injured by SDF mortar attack, raising the total civilians killed by SDF shelling in Turkey to 18, according to Turkish sources.[117][118][119]

Seven civilians were killed in Syria by Turkish forces in the Tal Abyad area including three killed by Turkish snipers according to SOHR.[120]

As reported on this day, according to the Turkish Ministry of National Defence, a total of 399 SDF fighters were killed, captured or wounded since the start of the Turkish military operation.[121]

The Syrian National Army stated to have taken the village of Halawa which is southeast of Tel Abyad.[122] TAF and SNA announced the capture of Tell Halaf later in the day and released a video from inside the town.[123]

In the city of Qamishli, a suspected ISIL car bomb killed five civilians, while an alleged Turkish artillery strike hit a nearby prison, and five suspected ISIL members, previously detained in SDF custody, escaped according to SDF.[124]

In the city of Kobanî, a U.S. special forces base reportedly experienced heavy shelling by Turkish artillery; the U.S. troops did not retaliate, but withdrew after the shelling ended. Turkey responded by denying that it targeted the U.S. base, instead asserting that it had fired upon SDF positions.[125] The Pentagon further raised concerns that the Turkish Army deliberately bracketed US Forces stationed in Kobani with artillery fire.[126] According to Turkish Defense Minister, the mortar attack targeting the town of Suruc earlier in the day was deliberately launched 1000 meters from the US base in Kobani by SDF to avoid Turkish retaliation and the attack was in response.[127]

On the same day, Jaysh al-Islam announced it would be joining the offensive on the side of Turkey from their bases in areas in Afrin and Northern Aleppo.[128]

The BBC reported that 100,000 people have fled their homes in northern Syria. The Kurdish Red Crescent (Heyva Sor) said there had been 11 confirmed civilian deaths so far. Turkey's military confirmed a soldier's death, and said three others had been wounded.[129]

Turkey's Ministry of National Defence announced that three more soldiers had been killed by the YPG, two of which were killed in a mortar attack on a Turkish military base in a Turkish-occupied part of Syria. This brought the total amount of Turkish soldiers killed in the operation to four.[112] The SOHR reported that the actual number of Turkish soldiers killed in the operation was six.[130] Later in the day, the SOHR reported that at least 12 Turkish border guards were either killed or wounded in a confrontation with the SDF in Kobanî.[131]

12 October 2019

Turkish Armed Forces and Syrian National army stated to have reached the M4 highway, 32 km deep into Syrian territory and effectively cutting the supply line between Manbij and Qamishli.[132] SNA also announced that they have taken 18 villages close to M4 highway, eastern Raqqah.[133]

Turkish interior minister Süleyman Soylu announced that nearly 300 mortar shells had been fired at Mardin Province by the SDF since the start of the operation.[134]

Around 12:00 (UTC+03:00), the TAF and SNA said that they had captured Ras al-Ayn,[135][136] but the SDF denied that Turkey had taken control of the city.[137][138]

13 October 2019

Video from Voice of America Turkish service shows a residential building hit by a mortar shell in the southeastern Turkish city of Akcakale, near the Syria-Turkey border, 13 October

Turkish-backed members of Islamist militia Ahrar al-Sharqiya executed Hevrin Khalaf, Secretary General of the Future Syria Party. She and at least nine other civilians were executed south of Tal Abyad on the side of the road after their vehicles were stopped by the Ahrar al-Sharqiya fighters on the M4 highway. Turkish sources admitted to her execution, describing Khalaf as a "terrorist" who they "neutralized."[139] Her execution was widely described by Western sources as a war crime under international law".[140][141][142] A spokesman for Ahrar al-Sharqiya meanwhile announced that she was killed for being "an agent for U.S. intelligence."[143]

Turkish Armed Forces and Syrian National Army announced the capture of the town of Suluk, located in Tell Abyad District, in the early morning.[144] The SOHR confirmed that the Turkish forces and SNA had taken full control of Suluk, and clashes were nearing towards Ain Issa. The SOHR also reported that pro-Turkish forces had targeted an ambulance in the Tel Abyad area which remains missing.[145][146]

The SOHR also reported that the SDF was able to regain almost all control over the contested city of Ras-al Ayn after a counterattack.[147]

Tall Abyad captured and M4 highway cut by Turkey and SNA

Turkish Armed Forces and Syrian National Army announced in the afternoon that they had captured the center of Tell Abyad.[148] Turkish Armed Forces and Syrian National Army fully captured Tall Abyad late in the afternoon according to the SOHR.[149][150] Turkish Armed Forces and Syrian National Army also cut the M4 highway according to SOHR.[149][151] Turkish sources also reported that SDF shelling towards Jarablus had killed 2 Syrian civilians.[152]

In light of the pro-Turkish forces advance on Ain Issa, the SDF stated that 785 ISIL-linked people had escaped from a detention camp in the area, SDF also stated the escapees received assistance of the pro-Turkish forces and Turkish airstrikes.[153] In contrast, Turkey stated that the SDF released ISIS prisoners at the Tell Abyad prison before the arrival of Turkish forces.[52] This statement was supported by U.S. President Donald Trump, but opposed by senior U.S. officials who stated that Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces were the ones freeing ISIS prisoners.[53][54] US troops evacuated the town of Ain Issa according to the Washington Post.[154]

United States Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that US was planning to evacuate all 1,000 remaining soldiers from northern Syria.[155] US also informed SDF of its intention to withdraw from military bases in Manbij and Kobani and had already evacuated Ain Issa according to SOHR.

Syrian government-SDF deal

Shortly after the capture of Tall Abyad by Turkey and SNA, a deal between the Syrian government and SDF was reached whereby the Syrian army would be allowed to enter the towns of Kobanî and Manbij in order to deter a possible Turkish military offensive in those areas.[64]

Later an advisor to Turkish President Erdoğan, Yasin Aktay, said there could be conflict between the two armies, if the Syrian government tries to enter northeastern Syria.[156]

SDF commander-in-chief Mazloum Abdi said he was willing to ally with the Syrian government for the sake of saving the Kurdish population in Northern Syria from what he called a genocide.[157]

14 October 2019

Russian and Syrian forces were reported to have been deployed at the front line between areas controlled by the Manbij Military Council and Euphrates Shield groups respectively, with further deployments to take place along the Syrian-Turkish border. In addition, the SOHR reported that the U.S. forces in the region were attempting to hinder the Russian and Syrian deployments in the region.[158]

The SOHR reported that violent clashes had continued in Ras Al-Ayn and its countryside at the border strip, where the Turkish forces were attempting to encircle the city completely and to cut off the road between Ras Al-Ayn and Tal Tamr, under a cover of artillery shelling and airstrikes with the purpose of taking control of the city by 15 October.[159][160][161] Turkish aerial and ground bombardment were reported to have occurred in the border town Al-Darbasiyyah targeting civilian houses which caused 4 reported injuries of medical personnel as per the SOHR.[162]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told a press conference that Turkey had received a positive response from Russia on Kobani and that Turkey was at the execution phase of its Manbij decision.[163] Turkish Armed forces deployed additional troops to Manbij frontline as of the previous night according to Turkish sources.[164] Turkish minister of defence Hulusi Akar said that Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn were under Turkish control and that works were ongoing for the whole region.[165]

The Syrian Army reportedly deployed to the town of Al-Thawrah,[166] as well as Ain Issa, Tell Tamer and as close as 6 km from the Syria–Turkey border.[13][167][14] It also took over the 93rd Brigade Headquarters just south of Ain Issa, as well as Al-Jarniyah to the east of the Euphrates.[168][169] The Syrian Army further reported taking control of the Tabqa Dam. The Syrian flag was reportedly raised for the first time in years in several towns and villages in the Al-Hasakah Governorate, such as the city of Al-Yaarubiyah.[170][171]

Jarabulus Military Council was reportedly to have targeted a vehicle south of Jarabulus by a guided missile leaving 2 persons dead in conjunction with an assassination that targeted members of Turkey-loyal factions south of Azaz.[172]

Turkish Armed Forces and Syrian National Army launched a military operation to capture Manbij in the late afternoon.[173] Turkish Armed Forces and Syrian National Army captured 3 villages in the Manbij countryside shortly after the launch of the operation according to Turkish sources.[174] At the same time, Syrian state media stated that the Syrian Army had started entering the town.[175]

Total U.S. withdrawal from northeastern Syria

Later in the day, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that all U.S. personnel would withdraw from Syria except those in Al-Tanf base.[176]

15 October 2019

SDF-controlled territory (green) and Turkish-controlled territory (red) in October 2019

The SOHR reported that a counterattack was carried out by the SDF in the outskirts and western countryside of Ras Al-Ayn city, and managed to achieve an advancement in the area recovering 3 areas lost previously.[177]

2 civilians were killed and 12 were wounded in Kızıltepe, Turkey after an SDF mortar attack according to Turkish sources.[37]

Turkish President Erdoğan, speaking at the Turkic Council in Baku, said: "We are now announcing the establishment of a safe area 444km from west to east and 32km from north to south, to which the refugees in our country will return."[178] President Erdoğan also said a total of 1,000 square kilometres (390 sq mi) had been captured by TAF and SNA since the start of the operation.[179] President Erdoğan also said a Turkish soldier was killed in Manbij by Syrian Army artillery fire and that there was an intense retaliatory fire for the attack which made the regime pay a heavy price.[180]

Syrian Army forces started entering the town of Manbij according to SOHR,[11] but were blocked by US troops when trying to enter Kobani according to SOHR, which resulted in the convoy's return to Manbij.[181] Syrian Army forces also entered Al-Thawrah according to Syrian government media.[12] Later, Erdogan told that Syrian Government troops entering Manbij is "not negative" and adding "as long as terrorists in the area are cleaned".[182]

16 October 2019

Villages around the M4 in Jazira province were reportedly shelled by the TAF at dawn while shelling and clashes had caused power outages and a water shortage in the city of Al-Hasakah, the latter of which returned after 5 days since it had been cut off, as per a SOHR report.[183] The SOHR also reported that clashes continued to the west of Ain Issa as the SDF attempted to launch a counter attack where they were able to successfully regain 2 locations.[184][185] Clashes had also broken out within the SDF controlled camp in Ain Issa between families of ISIS members and displaced civilians which resulted in 2 deaths, as per the SOHR report.[185]

Heavy shelling and airstrikes by the TAF were reported in Ras al-Ayn with heavy fighting on the ground according to SOHR.[186] The SOHR further reported that Turkish forces and allied factions had launched a wide scale offensive and managed to advance into parts of the Ras al-Ayn city.[187] Turkish President Erdogan announced that Turkey controlled over 1200 square kilometers area since start of the operation.[188]

U.S. withdraws from and destroys Syria headquarters

U.S. forces, after withdrawing from their air base near Kharab Ashk south of Kobani, bombed and destroyed it with airstrikes on the morning of October 16.[189] The airbase was the largest U.S. base in Syria, capable of landing C-130 as well as C-17 heavy transport planes.[190] OIR spokesman announced later in the day that U.S. forces had withdrawn from the Lafarge base reportedly destroyed earlier in the day, as well as from Raqqa and Al-Thawrah.[191] OIR spokesman also confirmed the destruction of the base later in the day saying "On Oct. 16, after all Coalition personnel and essential tactical equipment departed, two Coalition F-15Es successfully conducted a pre-planned precision airstrike at the Lafarge Cement Factory to destroy an ammunition cache and reduce the facility’s military usefulness."[192]

The Russian military deployed near Kobani on October 16 in the afternoon after crossing Qara Cossack bridge from Manbij to the east of Euphrates according to SOHR.[193] The SOHR also reported that the Syrian Army had completed its deployment in Ayn Issa, north of Raqqa.[185] The Syrian Army also reportedly entered the city of Kobani at nightfall.[194]

17 October 2019

TAF and SNA forces completely besieged and captured half of Ras al-Ayn after getting around the town and cutting off the roads leading to it amid heavy clashes according to SOHR.[195]

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu stated that over 980 mortar shells and rockets were launched at Turkey by SDF since the start of the operation killing 20 civilians.[196]

120 hour ceasefire

On 17 October 2019, US Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached a deal to implement a 120 hour cease-fire for Turkey's operation in northern Syria to allow SDF to withdraw from a designated safe zone,[68][69][17][197] spanning from the Turkey-Syria border to 20 miles (32 km) south.[197] Mike Pence stated that once the military operation completely stops all sanctions imposed on Turkey by the United States would be lifted and there would be no further sanctions.[69] According to a US statement, the safe zone would be "primarily enforced by the Turkish Armed Forces".[198] This ceasefire deal was described as another US betrayal of the Kurds[199][200][201] and a Kurdish surrender to Turkey[199][201][202] by several US commentators and officials.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu does not consider it a ceasefire but a temporary pause to allow SDF to withdraw from the designated safe zone, after which if completed the operation would end and if not completed the operation would continue.[203][204] SDF commander Mazlum Kobane said that they accepted the ceasefire agreement only in the area between Tall Abyad and Ras al-Ayn.[17]

The Syrian Kurdish political leader Salih Muslim stated that "Our people did not want this war. We welcome the ceasefire, but we will defend ourselves in the event of any attack … Ceasefire is one thing and surrender is another thing, and we are ready to defend ourselves. We will not accept the occupation of northern Syria."[198]

18 October 2019

Cautious calm prevailed at the east of Euphrates on the morning of 18 October according to SOHR with minor clashes in besieged Ras al-Ayn.[205] The SDF accused Turkey of violating the ceasefire and of shelling civilian areas of Ras al-Ayn.[206]

Reactions

A map depicting International reactions to Turkey's 2019 operation in northern Syria.
International reactions to Turkey's 2019 operation in northern Syria at a glance. See Reactions to the 2019 Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria for citations or more information.[needs update]

Arrests in Turkey

Turkish police detained more then 120 online critics of the Turkish operation for spreading "terrorist propaganda".[207][208] Turkish prosecutor opened an investigation into "terrorist propaganda" against MPs Sezai Temelli and Pervin Buldan, co-leaders of the pro-Kurdish HDP party.[209] Turkey arrested at least 151 members of the HDP, including district officials, and at least 4 HDP mayors for alleged links to the PKK, which Turkey considers to be a terrorist group.[210] Turkish authorities have also detained web editor of opposition BirGün newspaper (who was later released) and managing editor of the online news portal Diken.[211]

Domestic Turkish reaction

The Turkish offensive initially enjoyed wide support across the political spectrum, with the support of all major opposition parties except the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP).[212] Opposition newsrooms and opposition parties were largely supportive of the operation.[72] However, as time progressed, the Turkish opposition began criticizing the governmental strategy. Opposition Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu blamed the government's "adventurous foreign policy", stating that "If I do not respect the territorial integrity of another government, I will make enemies. Today we have made all the world as our enemies."[213] Meanwhile, opposition İyi Party leader Meral Akşener urged the government to dialogue with Assad in order to make peace while criticizing President Erdoğan for his silence on U.S. sanctions [214]

ISIL prisoners

There are concerns about a possible resurgence of the Islamic State (ISIL) in the region, as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—who conducted counter-terrorism operations against ISIL and held the ISIL captives in the region—fight against the Turkish-led offensive and thus could lose control over the detainees.[215][216] There are at least 10,000 ISIL prisoners and more than 100,000 ISIL family members and other displaced persons in several camps across northeastern Syria.[217][218] When asked about the situation after the withdrawal of US forces in northeastern Syria, US President Donald Trump dismissed the threat of ISIL, remarking that "they're going to be escaping to Europe".[219][220]

Îlham Ehmed, a Syrian Kurdish official, stated that the SDF felt betrayed by their American allies for "exposing us to an invasion by Turkish troops who aim to destroy us", remarking that they do not have the resources to both defend against the Turkish attacks and maintain security over the ISIL captives.[221]

According to Turkish sources, the SDF freed ISIL prisoners from a prison in Tal Abyad before Turkish forces could arrive. This claim was supported by U.S. President Donald Trump, who claimed on Twitter that "Kurds may be releasing some ISIS fighters to get the United States involved".[52][222] Other US officials, however, refuted the accusations, which they called baseless and false.[223][224] They stated that the SDF forces are still defending their bases and are relocating ISIL detainees to facilities further south.[223] They also reported that the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army is purposefully releasing ISIL prisoners, previously held by the SDF before their territory was captured.[225][226] In separate news, at least 750 ISIL affiliates were reported by the SDF to have escaped from a displacement camp in Ain Issa after Turkish bombing on 13 October 2019.[51]

A group calling itself "Free the Female Prisoners", which was established in January 2019 with the stated goal of freeing females associated with ISIL held at camps by the Syrian Democratic Forces, claimed to have had a role in freeing prisoners from Ain Issa, the group itself claims to be an independent group not affiliated with any faction, however it has been speculated to be either directly associated with ISIL or with al-Qaeda's branch in Syria, the Guardians of Religion Organization, the group itself says it would accept help from any faction or party as long as they supported their cause of releasing female ISIL prisoners.[227]

Western sanctions and suspension of arms sales

European Union

Protest in Berlin, Germany against Turkey's military offensive, 10 October 2019

On 10 October, a large majority of Dutch MPs backed the introduction of sanctions against Turkey.[228][229] France, Germany,[230] Sweden,[229] Finland,[231] and Norway[232] implemented export restrictions on arms exports to Turkey[230] and France[233] as well as Sweden[229] expressed their intention to back an EU-wide weapons embargo on the nation,[233] with discussions in the European Union on possible union-wide sanctions on Turkey beginning on the 13th.[233] Italy, formerly Turkey's largest arms supplier, later joined the arms embargo against Turkey.[234][235]

On 14 October, all EU countries agreed to stop selling arms to Turkey, but stopped short of an official union-wide arms embargo.[236]

United States

Letter dated 9 October from Donald Trump to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

On 9 October, Trump sent a letter to Erdoğan saying, "Let’s work out a good deal! You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy – and I will."[237]

Trump said he was working with congressional leaders, including the Democratic opposition, to impose "powerful" economic sanctions against Turkey for its cross-border attacks in north-eastern Syria.[238] Senator Lindsey Graham warned that he would "introduce bipartisan sanctions against Turkey if they invade Syria". He said he would also "call for their suspension from NATO if they attack Kurdish forces who assisted the United States in the destruction of the ISIS Caliphate".[239] Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the Senate to sanction Turkey,[240] as well as in the House of Representatives.[241]

On 14 October, the U.S. government declared sanctions against the Turkish ministries of defense, interior and energy.[59] The U.S. statement delivered by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Vice President Mike Pence denounced the Turkish government for "endangering innocent civilians, and destabilizing the region, including undermining the campaign to defeat ISIS", said that the U.S. had not given a "green light" to a full-on Turkish invasion, and warned that sanctions would continue and worsen "until Turkey embraces an immediate ceasefire".[59] On the same day, U.S. President Donald Trump demanded a ceasefire from Turkey in a conversation with Turkish President Erdoğan, froze negotiations on a $100bn US-Turkey trade deal, and imposed sanctions on Turkish government officials.[242]

The U.S. is reviewing the potential withdrawal of its nuclear weapons from Incirlik airbase as a result of the Turkish offensive.[243][244] Republican senator Lindsay Graham[245][246] and Democratic representative Eric Swalwell[247] have called for possibly suspending Turkey's membership in NATO.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confronts Donald Trump at a meeting, about U.S. withdrawal, in the White House on 16 October 2019.

On 16 October, the United States House of Representatives, in a rare bipartisan vote of 354 to 60, "condemned" President Trump's withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, for, in the view of both parties, "abandoning U.S. allies, undermining the struggle against ISIS, and spurring a humanitarian catastrophe".[248]

Geopolitical developments

In response to the Turkish offensive, Russia arranged for negotiations between the Syrian government in Damascus and the Kurdish-led forces.[249][250] Mazlum Abdi, a Syrian Kurdish commander-in-chief, announced that they are ready to partner with Vladimir Putin (Russia) and Bashar al-Assad (Syria), stating that "We know that we would have to make painful compromises with Moscow and Bashar al-Assad if we go down the road of working with them. But if we have to choose between compromises and the genocide of our people, we will surely choose life for our people."[251] The details of the agreement is unknown, but there are reports that suggest that the SDF will be incorporated into the Syrian Armed Forces and that northeastern Syria will come under direct rule of the Syrian government in Damascus.[252] According to Syrian Kurdish officials, the deal allows Syrian government forces to take over security in some border areas, but their own administration would maintain control of local institutions.[253]

As announced by Russia's Ministry of Defense on 15 October, Russian forces have started to patrol the region along the line of contact between Turkish and Syrian forces,[250][253] indicating that Russia is filling the security vacuum from the sudden US withdrawal.[253][254] Video footage shows Russian soldiers and journalists touring a base that the US left behind.[253] Alexander Lavrentiev, Russia's special envoy on Syria, warned that the Turkish offensive into Syria is unacceptable and stated that Russia is seeking to prevent conflict between Turkish and Syrian troops.[255]

Several US lawmakers have criticized the abandonment of their Kurdish allies, remarking that it undermines US credibility as an ally while benefiting Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime of Assad.[256] Meanwhile, several observers in Moscow have stated that the situation is not in the immediate Russian interests, as the Turkish intervention in Syria clashes with Russia's backing of the Syrian government, but it may provide opportunities for Russia as mediator as the US withdraws from Syria.[257]

In regards to the United States and the current situation, Mazlum Abdi stated that "We are disappointed and frustrated by the current crisis. Our people are under attack, and their safety is our paramount concern. Two questions remain: How can we best protect our people? And is the United States still our ally?"[251]

Media portrayal

In Turkey, authorities such as the Chief Prosecutor's Office of Istanbul have been accused of censoring critical reports of the Turkish offensive into Syria through detaining or harassing journalists in an attempt to "intimidate the media into silence".[258] Furthermore, Turkish President Erdoğan has written op-eds about the Turkish offensive, which has been characterized as propagandist in nature.[259]

Much of western media's coverage and commentary of the U.S.'s role in the conflict have emphasized President Donald Trump's "strategic blunder" that led to the Turkish offensive,[259] particularly his upending of the U.S.'s general alliance with the Syrian Kurds, the withdrawal process of U.S. ground forces, and the greater geopolitical and humanitarian impact of the offensive.

In the early stages of the Turkish offensive, a video from a gun range in the U.S. state of Kentucky was widely shared on social media and incorrectly claimed to be was a footage of Turkey bombing Kurdish-controlled Syrian territory. The virality of the video, which was shared by Turkish politician Melih Gökçek,[260] led to it being debunked by multiple sources on October 10–11.[261][262][original research?] However, despite the debunking, this video was published and shared by ABC News, who incorrectly claimed that it depicted Turkey bombing Kurdish civilians.[263] ABC News was criticized for the incident[264][265][266], including by President Donald Trump, before apologizing for the mistake.[267][268]

UN investigation of use of white phosphorus

Kurdish medics have claimed that a number of children have chemical burns, the UN has announced it is investigating alleged use of white phosphorus by Turkey. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of the UK’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear regiment, said of wounds he had been shown pictures of: “The most likely culprit is white phosphorus”.[269]

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in response to the allegations stated that SDF was planning to use chemical weapons to blame it on Turkey and stated that it was widely known that Turkish armed forces did not have any chemical weapons in their inventory.[270] Turkish media also criticized Foreign Policy magazine of using a photo of tires burning as evidence of white phosphorus.[271]

See also

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External links

  • Stephanie Grisham (6 October 2019). "Statement from the [U.S.] Press Secretary: Foreign policy" (Read out of October 6, 2019, telephone conversation between Turkish president Erdogan and U.S. president Trump). The White House.
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