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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

Go deeper

3 hours ago - World

Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai detained on fraud charge

An activist holds a placard highlighting China's Tiananmen Square massacre as pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrives at West Kowloon Magistrates' Court in Hong Kong in November. Photo: Isaac Wong/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai is being detained until an April court hearing after the pro-democracy supporter was charged Thursday with fraud, per his Apple Daily news outlet.

Why it matters: The 72-year-old's arrest and denial of bail is another blow for the pro-democracy movement in the former British colony amid concerns about a fresh crackdown on activists.

7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Inhofe loudly sets Trump straight on defense bill

Sen. Jim Inhofe speaks with reporters in the Capitol last month. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Senator Jim Inhofe told President Trump today he'll likely fail to get two big wishes in pending defense spending legislation, bellowing into his cellphone: "This is the only chance to get our bill passed," a source who overheard part of their conversation tells Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans are ready to test whether Trump's threats of vetoing the bill, which has passed every year for more than half a century, are empty.

Conspiracy theories blow back on Trump's White House

Sidney Powell. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

President Trump has rarely met a conspiracy theory he doesn't like, but he and other Republicans now worry the wild tales told by lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood may cost them in Georgia's Senate special elections.

Why it matters: The two are telling Georgians not to vote for Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler because of a bizarre, baseless and potentially self-defeating theory: It's not worth voting because the Chinese Communist Party has rigged the voting machines.