Turkish strikes are causing chaos on the Syrian border — here's what you need to know
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After President Donald Trump announced his decision late Sunday night to pull US troops from northeastern Syria, Turkey began an invasion of territory held by Kurdish forces.
Turkey claims it has struck at least 180 targets in Syria and claims 109 Kurdish casualties, although other observers put the number much lower.
Kurdish forces appeared to strike back on Thursday, when shells hit a border town in Turkey.
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A Turkish invasion of Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria has appalled the international community and reportedly caused widespread chaos.
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Turkey launched both air and ground operations Wednesday, just days after President Donald Trump announced his decision to pull US troops out of the area, leading to widespread condemnation even among his allies.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were an important partner in the US-led fight against ISIS in Syria. Kurdish forces are also guarding as many as 12,000 ISIS fighters in makeshift prisons and thousands of ISIS sympathizers in the al-Hol refugee camp.
Thus far in the fighting:
The Turkish military reports 342 Kurdish casualties, although the SDF put that number much lower, at about 22 deaths.
There are about 100,000 displaced people attempting to flee the clashes.
The Turkish military reports that it has performed more than 180 strikes.
Four towns near the border have been targeted.
Turkish and allied forces claim to have captured at least two villages in Kurdish territory.
Read on for more.
The Turkish military, along with forces from the Syrian National Army, have mounted Operation Peace Spring, an incursion into territory controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening an incursion into Kurdish-controlled Syrian territory for months, asking the US to help Turkey create a “safe zone” there for Ankara to repatriate Syrian refugees who settled in Turkey during the eight-year Syrian civil war.
Turkey originally wanted to stage the invasion to create a buffer zone along its border against Kurdish forces, who control the northeastern part of Syria, as well as some land near Aleppo in the west. Turkey considers the Kurdish forces there terrorists.
The SDF was an essential partner force in the mission to destroy ISIS; on Sunday evening, Trump announced his intention to pull US forces out of northeastern Syria, which Kurds call Rojava, essentially giving a green light to a Turkish attack on the Kurds.
The first Turkish air strikes in northeastern Syria began Wednesday. The ground invasion began shortly thereafter.
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Reuters, quoting Turkish media, reported that the ground incursion targeted four points in Rojava — two close to the Syrian town of Tal Abyad further west, and two near the town of Ras al-Ayn.
The Turkish Ministry of Defense said it had conducted 181 air strikes thus far and removed part of its border wall with Syria to allow ground troops in, according to The New York Times.
The Times reported that between 50 and 100 US troops pulled out of Rojava ahead of the operation. While Trump has said that the US will not be militarily assisting either side in the conflict, The Times also reported that until Monday, the US was assisting Turkey with intelligence that may have helped them target Kurds as late as Monday.
Turkish forces and their allied Syrian groups claimed to have captured at least two villages from SDF forces, The Guardian reports.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said in a press conference Friday that Turkish forces continue to strike in Kurdish territory; he stated that Turkish forces have conducted airstrikes with both manned, fixed-wing aircraft, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and artilliery strikes and limited tank fire. Light ground forces, along with supporting Syrian forces have advanced south in a limited capacity, he said.
On Wednesday, The Times reported as many as eight casualties in the initial strikes. On Thursday that number rose to at least 16, and by Friday, the SDF reported 22 fighters killed.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar reported Friday that 342 Kurdish fighters had been killed, although that number may be inflated. SDF sources state that 22 fighters had been killed as of Friday, according to the Associated Press.
In what seems to be a response from Kurdish forces, Turkish towns near the border were shelled on Thursday, killing six, including an infant, and wounding 65. On Friday, that number rose to at least 17 civilian deaths, according to Turkish provincial officials.
As many as 12,000 ISIS prisoners have been held in makeshift prisons guarded by SDF forces in Syria.
But with the SDF turning its attention to the border clash with Turkey, SDF leaders have acknowledged the impossibility of guarding the prisons at the same time with so few resources.
Experts have warned of the probability of ISIS prison breaks; on Friday, SDF leaders circulated video purporting to show ISIS militants escaping a prison near Qamishli, Syria.
The UN estimates that 100,000 people have fled the area in response to fighting,
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The streets outside of Ras al-Ayn were choked with vehicles Wednesday, with families attempting to flee the area. A group of refugees told CNN’s Clarissa Ward that they didn’t know where to go or where they might find safety.
The displacement has sparked fears in neighboring Iraq, where the Foreign Ministry released a statement saying Operation Peace Spring could “directly impact security in Iraq,” with refugees and militants streaming across the border.
The Associated Press reports that 100,000 people have been forced from their homes since Wednesday.
Since Sunday, the world has expressed outrage over both Trump’s decision to pull US forces and Erdogan’s incursion into Syria.
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Even Trump’s Republican allies condemned his decision to move US troops away from Syria’s border with Turkey, leaving Kurdish partners vulnerable to attack. Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s biggest supporters, said Trump’s actions were a “disaster in the making.”
Five members of the UN Security Council — France, the UK, Germany, Belgium, and Poland — requested that a meeting regarding the Turkish incursion be held Thursday, and Iran and Russia have both cautioned Turkey about the destabilizing nature of its actions.
Erdogan hit back against his European detractors, threatening to send millions of Syrian refugees to the continent, The Guardian reported.
“We will never stop this step. We will not stop no matter what anyone says,” Erdogan said in a speech Friday.