Politics

Turkey launches military operation against Kurds in northern Syria

Key Points
  • Turkey has launched a military operation in northern Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday, days after the Trump administration announced it would pull U.S. troops out of the area.
  • "Turkish Armed Forces together with the Syrian National Army against PKK / YPG and Deash terrorist organizations in northern Syria #BarışPınarıHarekatı has started," Erdogan wrote on Twitter, according to that site's translation feature.
  • President Donald Trump says the U.S. does not endorse the attack and that it is a "bad idea."
VIDEO1:3401:34
Turkey launches Syria invasion, Kurds ask US to enforce no-fly zone

Turkey has launched a military operation in northern Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday, days after the Trump administration announced its controversial decision to pull U.S. troops out of the area.

"Turkish Armed Forces together with the Syrian National Army against PKK / YPG and Daesh terrorist organizations in northern Syria #BarışPınarıHarekatı has started," Erdogan wrote on Twitter, according to that site's translation feature.

"Our aim is to destroy the terror corridor which is trying to be established on our southern border and to bring peace and peace to the region," Erdogan tweeted.

President Donald Trump said later Wednesday that the U.S. didn't endorse the attack. Here is the president's full statement, released by the White House press office:

This morning, Turkey, a NATO member, invaded Syria. The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea. There are no American soldiers in the area. From the first day I entered the political arena, I made it clear that I did not want to fight these endless, senseless wars—especially those that don't benefit the United States. Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment. In addition, Turkey is now responsible for ensuring all ISIS fighters being held captive remain in prison and that ISIS does not reconstitute in any way, shape, or form. We expect Turkey to abide by all of its commitments, and we continue to monitor the situation closely.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, is militarily led by the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, a group Ankara claims are terrorists and a security threat on its southern border. The Turks stress the YPG's ties to a separatist Kurdish group in Turkey, the PKK, which has carried out a decades-long violent insurgency against the Turkish state.

"With the Operation Spring of Peace, we will eliminate the threat of terrorism towards our country. Thanks to the SAFE ZONE we will establish, we will ensure that Syrian refugees return to their countries. We will protect the territorial integrity of Syria, and free the people of the region from the clutches of terror," Erdogan tweeted.

Turkey's long-expected incursion in northern Syria came less than a week after Trump spoke with Erdogan on the phone. After the call, the White House announced that "Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria" and "United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial 'Caliphate,' will no longer be in the immediate area."

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF, tweeted Wednesday that "Turkish warplanes have started to carry out airstrikes on civilian areas."

Reuters reported later Wednesday that the SDF have halted their anti-ISIS operations as they deal with the Turkish offensive.

The Kurds bore the brunt of the war against ISIS and are largely responsible defeating the terror group.

Trump's abrupt foreign policy move was met with immediate bipartisan criticism. Lawmakers from both major political parties accused the Trump administration of abandoning the Kurdish forces in the area who helped the U.S. fight ISIS.

Among the most scathing comments came from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump's closest allies in Congress who has nevertheless been one of his loudest critics on the withdrawal from Syria.

A photo taken from Turkey's Sanliurfa province, on October 09, 2019 shows smoke rises at the site of Ras al-Ayn city of Syria as Turkish troops along with the Syrian National Army begin Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria against PKK/YPG, Daesh terrorists.
Kerem Kocalar | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

"Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration. This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS," the senator tweeted.

Graham also vowed that he will "lead [the] effort in Congress to make Erdogan pay a heavy price."

Later Wednesday, NATO's secretary-general Jen Stoltenberg urged Turkey not to "further destabilize the region," though he said that the country has "legitimate security concerns" related to the threats of terrorism and an influx of refugees.

Turkey and Kurdish groups have clashed for years, and Ankara recently signaled that it planned to carry out operations against the Kurds near Syria's northern border with Turkey.

Trump took to Twitter to justify the decision to withdraw.

"It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home," Trump tweeted Monday. "WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN."

VIDEO1:3401:34
President Trump on Turkey: I hope Erdogan will act rationally

"Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their 'neighborhood,'" the president wrote.

On Wednesday, Trump followed up by railing against what he characterized as past botched attempts by the U.S. to meddle in the Middle East.

"Now we are slowly & carefully bringing our great soldiers & military home," Trump said. "Our focus is on the BIG PICTURE! THE USA IS GREATER THAN EVER BEFORE!"

— CNBC's Natasha Turak and John Schoen contributed to this report.