Turkey’s military struck the Syrian-Iraqi border to prevent Kurdish forces using the route to reinforce northeast Syria, as Ankara prepares to launch an offensive there after a surprise U.S. troop pullback, Turkish officials told Reuters on Tuesday.
Turkey says it is ready to advance into northeast Syria after the United States began pulling back troops from the Turkey-Syria frontier in an abrupt policy shift widely criticized in Washington as a betrayal of America’s allies.
The U.S. move will leave Kurdish-led forces long allied to Washington vulnerable to attack by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), which brands them terrorists because of their links to Kurdish militants who have waged a long insurgency in Turkey.
Giving details of the overnight strike, a security official said one of the main goals was to cut off transit route between Iraq and Syria often used by Kurdish armed groups “before the operation in Syria”.
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In this way, the group’s transit to Syria and support lines, including ammunition, are shut off,” the official said.
It was not clear what damage was done or whether there were casualties. Details of the strike, a joint operation by Turkey’s intelligence service and the military, were hazy. One official described them as an airstrike, while the other said the site was made “unusable through various means”.
President Donald Trump meanwhile denied he had abandoned the Kurdish forces, the most effective U.S. partners in fighting Islamic State in Syria. But he praised Turkey as a trade partner, in a softening of tone hours after threatening Ankara’s economy if it acted “off-limits” in Syria.
Amid deepening humanitarian concerns, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all parties in northeast Syria to exercise maximum restraint and protect civilians.
Signaling a further potential shift in the region’s power balance, the Kurdish-led forces said they might start talks with Damascus and Russia to fill a security vacuum in the event of a full U.S. withdrawal from the Turkish border area.
Turkey sought to underscore its determination to act. “The TSK will never tolerate the establishment of a terror corridor on our borders. All preparations for the operation have been completed,” the Turkish Defense Ministry said.