Turkey Launches Offensive against Kurdish Forces
Turkey launched airstrikes and fired artillery at Kurdish fighters in northern Syria on Wednesday. The attacks came just days after American troops withdrew from the area.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the military campaign in a Twitter post. The goal of the offensive, he wrote, is "to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area."
Reuters news agency says thousands of people fled the attack in the Syrian town of Ras al Ain and headed toward Hasaka, an area controlled by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The SDF said the airstrikes killed at least two people and wounded two others. A U.S. defense official and a Kurdish official in Syria told the Associated Press that the Turkish offensive has led the SDF to suspend operations against the Islamic State militants.
The attack followed a sudden and unexpected decision on Sunday by U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw American troops from northern Syria ahead of the operation.
Both members of Trump's Republican Party and the Democratic Party expressed strong opposition to the withdrawal decision. Critics said the U.S. is abandoning its ally, the Kurdish fighters who fought with American troops against the Islamic State (IS).
After Erdogan announced the start of the offensive Wednesday, Trump called the operation "a bad idea" and said the United States does not "endorse" it. He also said the U.S. expects Turkey to protect civilians and religious minorities so as to prevent a humanitarian crisis.
Several European countries called on Turkey to stop the operation. And Syria called the attack a "blatant violation" of international law.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the U.S. of playing "very dangerous games" with the Syrian Kurds. He said the U.S. first helped the Syrian Kurdish to establish a "quasi state" in Syria and now is withdrawing its support.
Turkey has long threatened to attack the Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. It says the Kurdish fighters are terrorists linked to a Kurdish rebellion in Turkey. But world powers fear the latest Turkish action could expand Syria's eight-year-old civil war.
The SDF captured the last area controlled by the Islamic State militants in eastern Syria last March. It currently holds thousands of IS fighters in prisons. It has warned that a Turkish attack might lead to the return of the extremists in the area.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told VOA's Kurdish service, "The difficulty we are going through is this, that we have partnered in dignity and clarity and friendship with American forces for five years and it is really hard for us to accept an end to this partnership in an unworthy way."
I'm Anna Matteo.