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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