The Turkish forces, together with Arab and Turkmen militias, have invaded northeastern Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced Wednesday. The raid takes place after the United States withdrew their troops from the area last weekend.
"Our goal is to destroy the terror corridor that people are trying to establish on our southern border and bring peace to the region," said Erdogan.
An aerial attack on Kurdish military positions is accompanied by artillery shelling, a source within the Turkish army told Reuters .
This is Turkey's first military offensive in the area since the country, together with the United States, made plans to establish a 'safe zone' there.
In the long term, Turkey wants to secure a strip of about 225 kilometers long and 32 kilometers wide along the Turkish-Syrian border as a buffer zone against 'terrorism'. Wednesday's raid counts as a step in that direction.
Ankara also wants to use the intended 'safe zone' to allow around two million Syrian refugees to return to their home country.
39Turkey's military operation hits border city
"Hit them with an iron fist"
At the start of the offensive, the Arab and Turkmen Syrian militias were instructed by their commanders not to show mercy to the Kurdish YPG. "Hit them with an iron fist, let them taste the hell of your fire," was the instruction.
NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said at a press conference in Rome that NATO member Turkey has "legitimate security concerns" because the country has endured "terrible terrorist attacks" and is home to millions of refugees.
Stoltenberg warned Turkey "not to further destabilize the region, let tensions escalate and cause more human suffering". The Turkish offensive must be characterized by "restraint" and "proportionality", according to Stoltenberg.
France, the United Kingdom and Germany will request an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the Turkish offensive in Syria, the French government announced. Diplomats reported to AFP on Wednesday that that meeting would take place on Thursday.
A cloud of smoke rises after an explosion in the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad, one of the first places to be attacked after the start of the Turkish offensive. (Photo: Reuters)
Kurds ask for no-fly zone
A spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Armed Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-led coalition in control of the area, reported that the attack began with a bombing of Turkish fighter planes in the Syrian border towns of Ras al Ain, Tal Abyad, Qamishli and Ain Issa.
The first citizens started fleeing the area on Wednesday evening.
The SDF has asked the US and other powers to set up a no-fly zone above the area.
The unofficial Kurdish civilian government in northeastern Syria called for a "general mobilization" of its forces on Tuesday when it became clear that Turkish troops on the border were making the final preparations for the operation to begin.
See also: Why Turkey has launched a military offensive in Northern Syria