U.S. Officials Slam Turkish Incursion Into Syria That Has Displaced 70,000 People

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Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad on Thursday, the second day of Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish forces.

Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images

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Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images

Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad on Thursday, the second day of Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish forces.

Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images

Updated at 7:04 p.m. ET

U.S. defense officials are decrying Turkey’s incursion into Kurdish-dominated northern Syria, several days after President Trump cleared the way for the attack by withdrawing U.S. forces from the border.

“We oppose and are greatly disappointed by Turkey’s decision to launch a unilateral military incursion into northern Syria,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Friday.

Esper said he has spoken to Turkey’s defense minister “and reiterated the damage this is doing to our bilateral relationship.”

The U.N. warns that at least 100,000 people have been displaced since the incursion began two days ago. Christian Cardon de Lichtbuer from the International Committee of the Red Cross says, “we have there all the ingredients for unfortunately yet another humanitarian crisis in Syria.”

The U.N. says that at least seven civilians have been killed in the first two days of the Turkish operation.

The Turkish offensive is targeting Kurdish-led forces who have fought alongside the U.S. in its offensive against ISIS. These forces are at odds with Turkey, which says they are linked to militant organizations that stage attacks against the Turkish government.

Late Sunday, following a call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the White House said that “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation in northern Syria.” Turkey began its operation on Wednesday, aiming to clear a buffer zone of Kurdish forces.

The operation has garnered widespread criticism, even from a confidant of Trump. Jack Keane, a retired four-star general and informal adviser to Trump, told NPR that it “is a strategic blunder of significant consequence to permit Erdogan to use military force to establish a buffer zone.”

Keane says that he believes most of Trump’s national security advisers “were surprised by this decision and clearly believe that we still should be supporting the Syrian Kurds and getting back to the negotiating table with Turkey on what size the buffer zone should be.”

He added that “Erdogan told [Trump] that he fully intended to conduct operations to clear that buffer zone to the depth that he wanted to have it.” The Kurdish fighters impacted, Keane said, are “as much of an ally [as] we have had in any war that we’ve ever fought.”

A U.S. official who has been working with the Kurds told NPR’s Tom Bowman that the Turkish military has shelled a hill near a military base where U.S. troops are stationed close to the town of Kobane. The official said the strikes are “too close for comfort. … They departed that outpost. May go back tomorrow.”

“Kobane is the heart of the Kurds,” the official said.

Kobane is located very close to the Turkish border, about 40 miles east of where Turkish attacks have been focused thus far.

The official said he considers this the U.S. military’s “moral and ethical dilemma of the current generation.”

“Standing by while a faithful partner is hunted down by a NATO country after the partner stood by us against ISIS. Completely absurd avoidable,” he said. “Responsibility lays not just with those who act, but also with failure to act – to prevent. Our leaders know this and remain silent.”

Esper denied that the U.S. had greenlighted the Turkish operation. “We pushed back very hard at all levels for Turkey not to commence the operation,” he said, and had relocated less than 50 U.S. special operations soldiers out of the immediate area.

These troops, and Kurdish-allied forces, had been holding ISIS militants. The U.S. has said that these detainees are now Turkey’s responsibility, though Esper said that two high-profile militants who were involved in the kidnapping and murder of U.S. and U.K. citizens in Syria have been transferred to U.S. custody.

On Friday, the Treasury announced that it was prepared to impose sanctions on Turkish government agencies and officials “to dissuade Turkey from any further offensive military action in northeast Syria.”

“We are putting financial institutions on notice that they should be careful and that there could be sanctions,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, according to Reuters.

Article source: https://www.npr.org/2019/10/11/769293935/u-s-officials-slam-turkish-incursion-into-syria-that-has-displaced-70-000-people?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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