Donald Trump has blasted the Turkish airstrikes on Syrian Kurds and ISIS fighters, saying he ‘does not endorse’ President Erdogan’s long-awaited military assault in Syria today.
Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the offensive – called ‘Operation Peace Spring’ – in northern Syria this afternoon in a bid to ‘bring peace to the area’ by targeting Kurdish fighters whom Ankara regards as ‘terrorists’.
President Trump – who ordered American troops out of the area – said Turkey’s incursion into the area was a ‘bad idea’ and said that Washington ‘does not endorse this attack.’
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Turkish warplanes had caused ‘huge panic’ when they attacked the Kurdish-held territory today, days after Donald Trump pulled out U.S. troops.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter: ‘Turkish warplanes have started to carry out air strikes on civilian areas.’
Pictures and video footage from the ground appeared to show civilians desperately fleeing the area as clouds of smoke rose from the positions targeted by Turkish jets.
Artillery units were shelling Kurdish towns across the border and the SDF said two civilians were killed and two others injured, while at least one fighter was also reported killed.
Tanks and troops had been massing on the border since Trump announced that American troops would step aside.
Hours after the assault was launched, President Trump tweeted that US troops should ‘never have been’ in the Middle East in the first place.
In Damascus, Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad warned that the Assad government ‘will defend all Syrian territory and will not accept any occupation of any land or iota of the Syrian soil’.
Syrian state media and a Kurdish official separately said bombing hit the town of Ras al-Ain in the northeast along the Turkish border that will be supported by artillery and howitzer fire.
Earlier, Turkish television reports said Turkish jets had bombed Syrian Kurdish positions across the border from Turkey.
Erdogan tweeted today that his armed forces along with the Syrian National Army had launched ‘Operation Peace Spring’ to ‘prevent the creation of a terror corridor’ along the Turkish border.
He added the aim to is to eliminate threats from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and the Islamic State militants, and enable the return of Syrian refugees in Turkey after the formation of a ‘safe zone’ in the area.
The Turkish president wrote on Twitter: ‘Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area. We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists.’
A Turkish official confirmed the military action after explosions rocked the town of Ras al Ain in northeast Syria, on the border with Turkey.
Earlier today Syria vowed to respond to a planned Turkish invasion of the northeast of the country, saying it condemned Ankara’s ‘hostile intentions’.
The Syrian foreign ministry said the ‘hostile actions’ of the Turkish government revealed its ‘expansionist ambitions,’ saying an attack on Syrian territory ‘could not be justified’ and pledged to ‘confront a Turkish assault’.
Turkish troops crossed into Syria earlier today in preparation for an imminent attack on Kurdish territory, an official claimed.
Two expeditionary forces entered Syria close to the towns of Tell Abiad and Sari Kani early in the morning in preparation for a broader offensive, the official told Bloomberg.
Another official later denied that the military operation had begun, but said preparations are still underway.
It comes after tanks, trucks, troops and supplies were pictured massing on the border overnight.
From the Turkish town of Akcakale several explosions were seen across the border in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, where a witness reported people fleeing en masse.
Large explosions also rocked Ras al Ain, just across the border from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar, a CNN Turk reporter said. The sound of planes could he heard above and smoke was rising from buildings in Ras al Ain, he said.
The SDF said military positions and civilians in the city of Qamishli and the town of Ain Issa – more than 20 miles (30km) inside Syria – had been hit, and said there were initial reports of civilian casualties.
Turkish media said mortar and rocket fire from Syria struck the Turkish border towns of Ceylanpinar and Nusaybin. There were no immediate reports of casualties there.
Trump’s decision has led to criticism from members of both parties that he abandoned America’s Syrian Kurdish allies under pressure from Turkey.
President Trump later tweeted that the US should have never used troops in the Middle East and referenced the failed bid to find Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction as the premise for the Iraq war under President George W. Bush as a reason for the US withdrawal from northern Syria.
Trump said he is ‘slowly and carefully’ bringing soldiers home from the Middle East, ending US involvement in what he described as the ‘worst mistake’ in the nation’s history and winding down nearly two decades of American warfare.
He told his detractors that culling bloodshed by US soldiers is the ‘BIG PICTURE’. He said it’s up to regional forces, now, to kill, capture and prosecute the remaining terrorists.
He declared in cap-filled tweets: ‘USA should never have been in Middle East.’
On his Twitter account, the president wrote: ‘The United States has spent EIGHT TRILLION DOLLARS fighting and policing in the Middle East. Thousands of our Great Soldiers have died or been badly wounded. Millions of people have died on the other side. GOING INTO THE MIDDLE EAST IS THE WORST DECISION EVER MADE…..
‘….IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY! We went to war under a false & now disproven premise, WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. There were NONE! Now we are slowly & carefully bringing our great soldiers & military home. Our focus is on the BIG PICTURE! THE USA IS GREATER THAN EVER BEFORE!’
He later retweeted a message criticising Republicans opposing Trumps withdrawal from Syria, adding: ‘True. Should have never been there in the first place!’
Senator Lindsey Graham vowed today that Congress will inflict a cost on Turkey for its offensive against Syria’s Kurds as the usually loyal ally of President Donald Trump sharply criticised US policy.
Graham said this morning that ‘a disaster is in the making,’ if Turkey entered Syria.
The senior Republican later tweeted, referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: ‘Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration. This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS. Will lead effort in Congress to make Erdogan pay a heavy price.’
The Turkish leader declared an offensive against US-allied Kurdish fighters who effectively control northeastern Syria after a telephone conversation with Trump, who promised to withdraw US troops serving as a buffer.
‘I urge President Trump to change course while there is still time by going back to the safe zone concept that was working,’ said Graham
Damascus today said it ‘is determined and willing to confront a Turkish assault using all legitimate means,’ said a foreign ministry statement carried by state news agency SANA, condemning Ankara’s ‘hawkish statements, hostile intentions…and military build-up’ along the border.
It said it held ‘some Kurdish groups [in Syria] responsible’ for the current situation on the border, but would still be ready to ’embrace’ them if they decide to return to the fold.
GOP senators like Mitt Romney, Homeland Security Chair Ron Johnson, Energy Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski also accused Trump of ‘betraying’ and ‘abandoning’ the Kurds in Syria to no avail.
Anti-war GOP Sen. Rand Paul was one of a handful of Republican lawmakers to openly hail Trump’s decision.
‘President Trump should be applauded for putting America first! I support bringing our troops home from endless wars in the Middle East!’ he said on Tuesday evening.
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Source: Daily Mail