ANKARA – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Wednesday the start of Ankara’s long-awaited military operation against US-backed Kurdish militias in Northern Syria, with the Turkish army staging massive air, missile, rocket and artillery attacks on the Kurdish-populated regions.
Erdogan claimed that the operation, codenamed “Peace Spring”, targets not only Kurdish-led militias, that Ankara believes to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group which is outlawed in Turkey, but also the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as ISIL, ISIS or Daesh), a claim hardly verifiable as ISIL has no major presence in the region.
Syria’s state TV also reported that the Turkish Army launched an operation in the country’s North by carrying out airstrikes on the city of Ras al-Ain. Reports from Ras Al-Ain in Northern Syria said the Turkish army is pounding the positions of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in massive air and artillery assaults on the region.
Turkish air force bombers are conducting non-stop raids on the city. According to a statement by the SDF press service, Turkish military aircraft have launched air raids on civilian areas, causing panic among the local population. The SDF appealed to the United States and its allies for a “no-fly zone” to protect it from Turkish assaults.
Meanwhile, CNN Turk reported that the US ambassador to Ankara was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry to be briefed on the military offensive into Northeastern Syria. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has also summoned ambassadors of other UN Security Council members for a briefing.
Turkish aerial and artillery strikes were also launched on villages of al-Asdieh, Beir Nouh, al-Mashrafa and Kheirbet al-Banat in Ras al-Ain countryside, as well as, Ein al-Essa town in Raqqa’s Northern countryside. Turkish howitzers also targeted Kurdish positions in Tel Abyad town.
A witness in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad told Reuters that sounds of explosions rang out and smoke was rising nearby along the border with Turkey, as people fled the town en masse after Ankara launched its military operation against Kurdish fighters.
Ankara-backed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has also called on its militants to use the utmost violence against the Kurds. “Strike them with an iron fist, make them taste the hell of your fires,” a statement from the so-called National Army, the main Turkey-backed rebel force told its fighters.
Meanwhile, the SDF has received reinforcements in the vicinity of Tel Hamam Turkaman village where they are currently positioned. The Kurdish militias have started returning fire, and shelled the Turkish city of Nusaybin on the border with Syria, the Syrian state television reported.
The Kurdish fighters have also set fire to some oil wells in the Northern countryside of Hasaka to hamper Turkish heavy airstrikes. The Kurdish militants have also set car tires on fire to create a smokescreen against Turkish airplanes.
Following Erdogan’s announcement of a looming military operation against Kurdish militants days ago, Turkey deployed reinforcements to the Syrian border. Airstrikes and artillery attacks on Kurdish positions along the Syrian-Iraqi border were reported in recent days.
The Turkish army started air and artillery attacks on the military positions of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Northeastern Hasaka near the borders with Turkey on Tuesday.
“The Turkish fighter jets pounded a center of the Kurdish militias in Tal Tavil in the surrounding areas of the city of al-Malekieh in Northeastern Hasaka,” the Arabic-language website of the Russian Sputnik news agency reported.
It noted that the Turkish Army’s attacks inflicted heavy losses on the Kurdish militias. A senior Kurdish official said that the Kurds are ready for an agreement with Damascus as Turkey has ensured an impending incursion into Northern Syria.
Badran Jia Kurd, an adviser to the Kurdish-led administration in Northern Syria, said on Tuesday that agreement with Damascus is necessary to support people and play role in entire Syria. He underlined the Kurds’ emphasis on the importance of holding serious talks with Damascus, and said they are ready for such negotiations and Russia can also play a role in this regard.
Meantime, the SDF are angry about the US forces’ withdrawal from the bordering areas with Turkey amid Ankara’s threats to attack Northern and Eastern Syria and noted that the US has stabbed them in the back by breaching its promises. The military operation comes on the heels of an American military pullout from the region, clearing the way for the Turkish operation.
The White House announced on Sunday the United States will neither support nor otherwise be involved in the looming Turkish military operation in Northern Syria nor will it interfere, as American troops will no longer be in the “immediate area”. Hours later, the US Army turned its back to Kurdish militias, withdrawing its troops from the border regions with Turkey.
Fears that the US will do nothing to stop a Turkish military incursion into Northern Syria could prompt Kurdish militias to negotiate with Damascus and Moscow, Kurdish leaders have signaled in recent days. Washington-backed militants have warned of “all-out war” if Ankara carries out an air and ground military operation.
Ankara views the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as the Syria branch of the PKK militant group, which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984. Turkey had launched two operations in Northern Syria. The first offensive dubbed “Euphrates Shield” began in August 2016 to stop the advance of Kurdish militants.
Then in January 2018, Turkish military forces launched another cross-border military operation inside Syria, code-named “Operation Olive Branch”, with the declared aim of eliminating militants of the YPG from Northern Syria, particularly the Afrin region.
Damascus has reiterated that Turkey and US military presence in Syria is illegal and any foreign troop in Syria is regarded as an occupying force and the Syrian government has the right to take all the needed measures to confront it.