Oct 10, 2019

Civilians flee as Turkey advances against Kurds and into Syria

The Turkish offensive in Northern Syria that began on Wednesday after President Trump withdrew U.S. special forces from the border has claimed its first casualties and sent an estimated 60,000 civilians fleeing for safety.

The big picture: Turkey’s air and ground campaign is targeting Kurdish fighters who are central to the U.S. campaign to defeat the Islamic State, or ISIS, but viewed by NATO ally Turkey as elements of a terror group, the PKK.

Driving the news: There is virtually no international support for Turkey’s incursion, with even Trump now declaring it "a bad idea."

  • Responding to criticism from Europe, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to “open the gates” and let Syrian refugees flow onto the continent.
  • Turkey’s foreign minister also rejected Trump’s claim that Turkey is now responsible for keeping some 10,000 ISIS suspects imprisoned, saying it will only take those inside the “safe zone” it intends to create.
  • The Kurds currently hold the prisoners. They’ve already halted all anti-ISIS operations amid Turkey’s offensive, per the AP, and have said guards will have to abandon the prisoners to join the fight.

Trump warned on Thursday that he would “hit Turkey very hard financially & with sanctions if they don’t play by the rules," though both he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have declined to say what those rules are.

  • As for the ISIS prisoners, Trump said “they're going to be escaping to Europe,” not the U.S.

Zoom out: Soner Cagaptay, an expert on U.S.-Turkey relations and author of the new book "Erdogan’s Empire," tells me Erdogan’s offensive will further strain a longstanding alliance that looks increasingly likely to rupture. Go deeper

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Romney on Pence meeting with Turkey's Erdogan: "It's too late"

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) attacked President Trump's decision to send a delegation to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Turkey's invasion of Syria, telling NBC reporters on Wednesday that it's "too late for this kind of conversation."

"It's very hard to understand why it is the vice president and secretary of state and others are going to talk with Erdogan and Turkey... It's like the farmer who lost all his horses and goes to now shut the barn door."
Go deeperArrowOct 16, 2019

Where it stands: Turkey's offensive into Syria

Turkish forces gather in Syria's al-Bab town on Oct. 11. Photo: Zein Al Rifai via Getty Images

Kurdish fighters in northern Syria said they prevented a second jailbreak attempt on Friday at a detention camp for ISIS family members, the New York Times reports, just 3 days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a military offensive in the region.

The latest: The Turkish military captured the center of the Syrian town Ras al-Ayn on Saturday — its "most significant gain" since the start of the offensive, AP reports. 28 Syrian civilians have been killed as of Saturday, per counts from a war monitor cited by AFP and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The U.N. estimates 100,000 Syrian residents have evacuated to the south.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Oct 12, 2019

Pentagon chief Esper insists U.S. hasn't abandoned Kurds, demands Turkey halt

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper declared Friday that "Turkey must stop this incursion now," referring to the ongoing offensive against Kurdish forces in Northern Syria. He insisted the U.S. had "not abandoned the Kurds," whom he noted had "helped us destroy the physical caliphate of ISIS."

Why it matters: Esper said his top priority since taking office had been to prevent the exact scenario that has unfolded since President Trump's announcement Sunday that U.S. troops would move out of the way of an impending Turkish attack. He said administration officials are urging Turkey to halt, but he's had "no indication they are willing to."

Key quotesArrowOct 11, 2019