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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
Date9 October 2019 – ongoing
(5 days)
Location
Northern parts of Aleppo, Hasakah, and Raqqa Governorates, Syria
Status

Ongoing

Belligerents
 Turkey
Syrian Interim Government[1][2][3]
Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria
 Syria[4][5]
(from 13 October)
Commanders and leaders
Hulusi Akar
(Minister of Defence)
Gen. Yaşar Güler
(Chief of the General Staff)[10]
Hakan Fidan[11]
(MİT Chief)
Brig. Gen. Salim Idris
(Minister of Defence)
Sayf Abu Bakr
(Hamza Division Commander)[12]
Mazlum Abdi
(Commander-in-Chief)
Riad Khamis al-Khalaf
(Tal Abyad Military Council Commander)[13]
Imad Meno
(Serekaniye Military Council Commander)[14]
Units involved
See order of battle See order of battle
Strength
Turkey 80,000[15]
[better source needed]
14,000[16]
40,000-60,000 [17][18]
Unknown (Currently mobilizing)
Casualties and losses

Per SOHR:[6]
108 killed
8 killed


Per Turkey:[19]
16 killed
2 killed[a]

Per SOHR:[6]
133 killed


Per SDF:
45 killed[20]


Per Turkey:
500 killed, 26 wounded and 24 captured[21][22]
69 civilians killed in Syria by TAF and SNA[6] and 1 civilian killed by SDF shelling (per SOHR)[23]
18 civilians killed in Turkey by SDF shelling (per Turkey)[24][25]
130,000+ civilians displaced[26][27]
a Two additional Turkish soldiers were killed in the area of Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syria,[28] which are counted in the toll provided by SOHR.[6]

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[29] conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the Syrian National Army against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Army in the North and East Syria.

On 6 October 2019, the Trump administration ordered American troops to withdraw from northeast Syria, where the United States had been supporting its Kurdish allies.[30] The military operation began on 9 October 2019 when the Turkish Air Force launched airstrikes on border towns.[31] The conflict resulted in the displacement of over 130,000 people and has caused the death of several civilians.[32]

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.[16] As the proposed settlement zone is heavily Kurdish in demographic makeup, this intention has been criticized as an attempt to force a drastic demographic change,[33][34][35] a criticism denied by Turkey by saying that it only intended to "correct" the demographics that Turkish officials asserted were changed by the SDF.[35][36][37] The offensive also allowed at least 750 ISIS affiliates escape from their detention camp. SDF accused Turkey stating they escaped after Turkish bombs struck near the prison compound.[38] US President Donald Trump accused SDF on Twitter saying "Kurds may be releasing some ISIS fighters to get the United States involved".[39] Turkey stated that SDF released ISIS prisoners before their arrival.[40]

The Turkish action was condemned by the European Union, the Arab League, Iran, Israel, India[41] 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.[42] 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 of Syrian territory.[43] Nevertheless, 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.[44][45][46] Shortly thereafter, Syrian State broadcaster SANA announced that Syrian Army troops had started to deploy to the country's north.[47][48] Turkey and SNA launched an offensive to capture Manbij on the same day.[49]

Background

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 extention of the Kurdistan Workers Party, 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.[50][51] 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.[52]

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.[53] 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.[54] The ultimatum was ignored by the group and Turkey declared its "deadline" to have expired at the start of October that same year.[55]

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.[56][57] 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.[30] The US also reportedly cutoff aid to the SDF in order not to arm them against a NATO ally.[58]

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.[59] 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.[60] 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.[61] On the same day, Turkish forces shelled Ras al-Ayn and fired machine guns in the vicinity of the city.[62]

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." [63]

Timeline

A daily map of the Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria (green is Turkish forces and yellow is SDF forces).

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,[64] 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.[65][66]

In response to the cross-border shelling, SDF's spokesman stated that Turkey was targeting civilians.[67] Six rockets were later launched at the Turkish city of Nusaybin as a response by the PKK, and two reportedly hit the Turkish town Ceylanpınar.[68][69][70] The SDF also announced in response to the start of the Turkish operation they would be halting anti-ISIL operations,[71] and that two civilians had been killed.[72] In response to the airstrikes, the SDF has called upon the United States to establish a no-fly zone over northern Syria.[73]

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.[74]

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 are also reportedly taking part in the Turkish-led offensive.[citation needed] The SDF said they repelled a Turkish advance into Tel Abyad.[65] Later during the day, clashes reportedly broke out between the SDF and Turkish-aligned forces near al-Bab.[75] Turkish-led forces made advances around the area of Tell Abyad and captured the villages of Tabatin and Al-Mushrifah.[76][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.[77][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.[78][79] Turkish media reported in the late evening that 174 SDF fighters were killed, wounded or captured.[80]

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 Turkish President Recep Tayyip 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.[81][82]

70,000 people have fled from border towns in the SDF following Turkish bombardment.[83][84]

According to Turkey's Ministry of National Defence, one Turkish soldier was killed by the YPG.[85]

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.[86]

Three civilians were killed in Suruc by a SDF shelling.[87][88] In response to the attack, Turkey shelled Kobane, a community across the border from Suruc.[89] 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.[90][91][92]

Seven civilians were killed in Syria by Turkish forces in the Tal Abyad area including three killed by Turkish snipers according to SOHR.[93]

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.[94]

The Syrian National Army stated to have taken the village of Halawa which is southeast of Tel Abyad.[95] TAF and SNA announced the capture of Tell Halaf later in the day and released a video from inside the town.[96]

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.[97]

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.[98] The Pentagon further raised concerns that the Turkish Army deliberately bracketed US Forces stationed in Kobani with artillery fire.[99] 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.[100]

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.[101]

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.[102]

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.[85] The SOHR reported that the actual number of Turkish soldiers killed in the operation was six.[103] 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.[104]

12 October 2019

Turkish soldiers at the entrance of Ras al-Ayn on 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.[105] SNA also announced that they have taken 18 villages close to M4 highway, eastern Raqqah.[106] According to Kurdish sources, Kurdish local politician Hevrin Khalaf was executed near Qamishli by Turkish-backed troops, her death was later confirmed by the SOHR.[107] SOHR further reported that at least 9 civilians had been executed by the Turkish-backed troops.[108]

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.[109]

Around 12:00 (UTC+03:00), the TAF and SNA said that they had captured Ras al-Ayn,[110][111] but the SDF denied that Turkey had taken control of the city.[112][113]

13 October 2019

Turkish-backed members of Islamist militia Ahrar al-Sharqiya killed Hevrin Khalaf, Secretary General of the Kurdish 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.[114] According to the Washington Post, the killing "almost certainly constitute(d) a war crime, under international law".[115]

Turkish Armed Forces and Syrian National Army announced the capture of the town of Suluk, located in Tell Abyad District, in the early morning.[116] The SOHR confirmed that the Turkish forces and SNA had taken full control of Suluk, and clashes were nearing towards Ain Issa. SOHR also reported that the pro Turkish forces had targeted an ambulance in the Tel Abyad area which remains missing.[117][118]

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.[119]

Turkish Armed Forces and Syrian National Army announced in the afternoon that they had captured the center of Tell Abyad.[120] Turkish Armed Forces and Syrian National Army also cut the M4 highway according to SOHR.[7][121] Turkish sources also reported that SDF shelling towards Jarablus had killed 2 Syrian civilians.[122]

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.[123] US troops evacuated the town of Ain Issa according to Washington Post.[124]

United States Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that US was planning to evacuate all 1,000 remaining soldiers from northern Syria.[125] 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.

Capture of Tall Abyad

Turkish Armed Forces and Syrian National Army fully captured Tall Abyad late afternoon according to SOHR.[126][7]

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.[45]

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.[127]

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 so-called genocide in his opinion.[128]

14 October 2019

Russian and Syrian Government 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 US forces in the region are attempting to hinder the deployments in the region.[129]

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 the 15th of October.[130][131][132] 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.[133]

Turkish President 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.[134] Turkish Armed forces deployed additional troops to Manbij frontline as of the previous night according to Turkish sources.[135] 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.[136]

Turkish commandos on the way to Manbij frontline, 14 October 2019

The Syrian Army was reported to have deployed to the town of Al-Thawrah,[137] as well as Ain Issa, Tell Tamer and as close as 6km from the Syria–Turkey border according to SOHR.[9] It also took over the 93rd Brigade Headquarters just south of Ain Issa, as well as Al-Jarniyaht to the east of the Euphrates.[138][139] 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.[140][141]

Manbij Offensive

Turkish Armed Forces and Syrian National Army launched a military operation to capture Manbij in the late afternoon.[142] 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.[143] At the same time, Syrian state media stated that the Syrian Army had started entering the town.[144]

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.

Arrests in Turkey

Turkish police detained more than 120 online critics of the Turkish invasion for spreading "terrorist propaganda".[145][146] Turkish prosecutor opened an investigation into "terrorist propaganda" against MPs Sezai Temelli and Pervin Buldan, co-leaders of the pro-Kurdish HDP party.[147] Turkish authorities have detained web editor of opposition BirGün newspaper and managing editor of the online news portal Diken.[148]

ISIL prisoners

There are concerns about a possible resurgence of the Islamic State (ISIL) in the region, as the Syrian Democratic Forces—who conducted counter-terrorism operations against ISIL and held the ISIL captives in the region—fight against the Turkish-Syrian National Army offensive and thus could lose control.[149][150] 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".[151][152]

Ilham Ahmed, a Kurdish Syrian 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.[153]

US President Donald Trump accused SDF on Twitter saying "Kurds may be releasing some ISIS fighters to get the United States involved".[39] Turkish soldiers captured a prison in Tal Abyad housing ISIL fighters, according to Turkish sources the prison was fully emptied by the SDF, before Turkish forces arrived. Turkey claimed that SDF released ISIL prisoners before their arrival.[40]

Anonymous US officials, however, refuted the accusations and called it baseless, reporting that the SDF forces are still defending their bases and are relocating ISIL detainees to facilities further south.[154] They also reported that the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army is purposefully releasing ISIL prisoners, previously held by the SDF until the territory was captured from them, in an information war.[155]

US sanctions

US President Donald Trump said he was working with congressional leaders, including opposition Democrats, to impose "powerful" economic sanctions against Turkey for its cross-border attacks in north-eastern Syria.[156] Donald Trump also Tweeted the next day that big sanctions were coming on Turkey.[157]

See also

References

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