Following air strikes and artillery bombardment, Turkey has deployed ground troops into northern Syria to fight Kurdish militias. This was confirmed by the Turkish Ministry of Defense in Ankara via Twitter. "Our heroic Turkish forces and the National Syrian Army have begun their ground offensive in the east of the Euphrates as part of the Operation Peace Spring," the statement said. The Syrian National Army means Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.
Contradictory reports from the first battles
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fierce fighting between Turkish troops and units of the Kurdish militia-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at the entrance and around Tall Abjad near the Turkish border town of Akcakale. SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali, however, rejected reports by Syrian rebels that they had joined forces with the Turkish army in Tall Abyad. The Turkish ground attack had been repulsed, he wrote on Twitter. Furthermore, Bali said that the Turkish army had bombarded the vicinity of a prison where the "most dangerous jihadists" of the terrorist organization Islamic State (IS) were detained. The SDF forces captured thousands of IS supporters in their operations against the terrorists.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the launch of the long-planned military deployment on Twitter the afternoon before the offensive. The aim of the operation is the Kurdish YPG militia, which controls a large area on the Syrian side of the border. Turkey sees in her an offshoot of the banned Kurdish workers' party PKK and thus a terrorist organization. "Our goal is to destroy the terror corridor we want to build on our southern border and bring peace and tranquility to the region," wrote Erdoğan.
In the first few hours of the attacks, at least 15 people were reported to have been killed, including six adult civilians and two children, according to activists from the Syrian Human Rights Observatory. The other dead are SDF fighters. The human rights defenders also reported more than 40 casualties, 13 of whom are believed to be civilians.
Germany and the EU condemn the invasion
Internationally, the offensive triggered many criticisms. Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) said in Berlin: "Turkey accepts to further destabilize the region and risks a resurgence of the IS." It threatens another humanitarian disaster and a new escape movement. "We call on Turkey to end its offensive and peacefully pursue its security interests."
The member states of the EU have called on Turkey in a joint statement to stop the military offensive. "Renewed armed conflict in the north-east will further undermine stability throughout the region, worsen the suffering of civilians and provoke additional displacement," the statement said. Turkey endangers the success of the international coalition against IS.
US senators want to stop arms sales to Turkey
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Turkey must ensure that its actions are proportionate and moderate. He wants to talk to Erdoğan about the military offensive in Istanbul on Friday. Turkey is a NATO member.
The US also condemns the attack. US President Donald Trump said the offensive was "not a good idea". Previously, he had sent troops stationed in the area to prevent them from engaging in fighting between Turkish and Kurdish units. Democratic and Republican senators of the US Congress are preparing a bipartisan resolution for sanctions against Turkey. So they want to stop US arms sales to Turkey to punish Turkey for their invasion of northern Syria, said Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. In addition, he talks with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham about punishing other countries that sell weapons to Turkey. Personal sanctions against senior Turkish officials are also conceivable. Already in the past few months, the US dropped its distance to the NATO partner due to Russian arms sales to Turkey.
Syria - Turkey launches offensive against Kurdish militia YPG The Turkish military wants to create a so-called security zone there by crossing the Turkish-Syrian border. The Syrian government threatened to fight back. © Photo: Baderkhan Ahmad