Turkey pounded Kurdish militia in northeast Syria for a second day on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee and killing dozens, in a cross-border assault on U.S. allies that has turned the Washington establishment against Donald Trump.
The Turkish offensive against the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces, launched days after Trump pulled U.S. troops out of the way, opens one of the biggest new fronts in years in an eight-year-old civil war that has drawn in global powers.
At least 23 fighters with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and six fighters with a Turkish-backed Syrian rebel group had been killed, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors Syria’s eight-year-old war.
The SDF said Turkey’s airstrikes and shelling had also killed nine civilians. In an apparent attempt by Kurdish-led forces to retaliate, mortar fire from Syria killed three people including a child in the Turkish border town of Akcakale, hospital and security sources said.
The International Rescue Committee said 64,000 people in Syria have fled since the campaign began, the Observatory said. The towns of Ras al-Ain and Darbasiya, some 60 km (37 miles) to the east, have been largely deserted as a result of the attack.
The Observatory said Turkish forces had seized two villages near Ras al-Ain and five near the town of Tel Abyad.
President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan told members of his AK Party in Ankara that 109 militants had been killed so far. Kurds said they were resisting the assault.
According to a senior Turkish security official, the armed forces struck weapons and ammunition depots, gun and sniper positions, tunnels and military bases.
Jets flew operations up to 30 km (18 miles) into Syria. A Reuters journalist saw shells exploding just outside Tel Abyad. “The operation is currently continuing with the involvement of all our units,” Erdogan said in a speech.
Trump, who has faced rare criticism from senior figures in his own Republican Party who accuse him of deserting loyal U.S. allies, said on Twitter he was talking to “both sides”. He warned Ankara it would be hit hard financially if it did not “play by the rules”.
The SDF have been the main allies of U.S. forces on the ground in the battle against Islamic State since 2014. They have been holding thousands of captured IS fighters and tens of thousands of their relatives in detention.