Turkey Begins Military Operation in Northeast Syria

A Turkish helicopter flies over Turkish soldiers and journalists as US and Turkish armoured vehicles take part in their first joint patrol

In a statement published Tuesday, Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman dispelled reports that President Donald Trump did not inform top officials such as Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Army General Mark A. Milley of his stated decision Sunday to move US troops following a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has threatened to attack Kurdish groups backed by Washington but considered terrorist groups by Ankara.

Senior Turkish and USA officials discussed measures for the formation of a "safe zone" in northeastern Syria and possible steps after a Turkish offensive in the region, broadcaster NTV said, as Ankara poised to launch its operation.

Critics fear the move will open the way for a Turkish strike on Kurdish-led forces long allied with Washington who have led the fight against the Islamic State militant group in Syria.

"The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army [FSA], will cross the Turkish-Syrian border shortly", Fahrettin Altun said in a Washington Post column published on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Turkish officials said its military had struck the Syrian-Iraqi border to prevent Kurdish forces using the route to reinforce the region.

The decision has rattled allies, including France, one of Washington's main partners in the US-led coalition fighting ISIS.

The American backing of the Kurdish forces in Syria has always been a source of contention between the USA and Turkey - both North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members. "We've once again abandoned the Kurds in a very surprising way", he added.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed the military operation was now underway in a tweet.

Turkish army soldiers drive towards the border with Syria near Akcakale in Sanliurfa province.

"We are calling on our friendly and brotherly neighbor Turkey to act with more patience and restraint, and to revise its decision".

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Washington of playing "very unsafe games" with the Syrian Kurds, saying that the USA first propped up the Syrian Kurdish "quasi state" in northeastern Syria and is now withdrawing its support. "We have made no changes to our force presence in Syria at this time".

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The general command of the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces, who have borne the brunt of the fight against ISIS, charged that the USA withdrawal from northeastern Syria, and Trump's renewal of his intention to withdraw all USA troops from Syria, amounted to a "stab in the back" to a loyal ally.

But Sunday night the White House released a statement saying the president had spoken with Mr. Erdoğan, and that "Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria". "Disappointment that we are letting down our partners, perhaps adding to the humanitarian disaster in this region".

In its call for mobilization, the local civilian Kurdish authority known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, also urged the global community to live up to its responsibilities as "a humanitarian catastrophe might befall our people" in the region.

He also challenged Trump to see the situation on the ground for himself. "We are prepared to defend the people and the people of NE #Syria", the center's account tweeted.

Russian Federation criticizes "reckless attitude" of U.S.

Trump's decision to pull back troops has rattled allies, including France and Britain, two of Washington's main partners in the US -led coalition fighting Islamc State.

"We announce three days of general mobilisation in northern and eastern Syria", it said in a statement, asking all civilians to "head to the border with Turkey to fulfill their duty".

"This is one of the options that we have on the table", he said. The same will go for predominantly Kurdish parts of northeastern Syria.

"Our preparations regarding the operation are ongoing".

Analysts say this operation would likely be more complicated. "So, we've chose to start an operation against them", Cavusoglu said. "It's the worst possible thing we could be doing right now".

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