Could Turkey's military moves destabilise north Syria?

Turkish army soldiers drive towards the border with Syria near Akcakale 8 October 2019.                  Bulet Kilic  AFP

Turkey launched a military operation against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria on Wednesday just days after USA troops pulled back from the area, with air strikes and artillery hitting YPG militia positions around the border town of Ras al Ain.

The U.S.is tracking people who are being displaced from the Syrian cities of Ras al-Ayn, Tal Abyad, Qamishli and Ain Issa, the official says, reflecting a span of some 140 miles along the north and northeastern border. The sound of warplanes could he heard above and smoke was rising from buildings in Ras al Ain, he said.

Turkey attacked Kurdish positions in northeast Syria on Wednesday, pounding them with air strikes and artillery barrages in a cross-border military operation just days after U.S. troops pulled back from the area.

In another tweet, Erdogan added that "Operation Peace Spring" would "neutralize terror threats against Turkey" and help facilitate the "return of Syrian refugees to their homes" by establishing a safe zone.

Altun says Turkey seeks to "neutralise" Syrian Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria and to "liberate the local population from the yoke of the armed thugs".

The SDF halted operations against ISIS because of the Turkish offensive, two United States officials and a Kurdish source said.

The SDF, led by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), has denounced Washington's move as a "stab in the back". I hope we can turn the fight against ISIS over to Turkey.

The Turkish defence ministry said the army had hit a total of 181 militant targets with air strikes and howitzers since the start of operation.

Mikael Mohammed, a Kurdish father of three who owns a clothing store in Tel Abyad, a quarter-mile from the Turkish frontier, said he had not received any customers since Tuesday.

A senior Turkish official said Wednesday that Turkey's troops would "shortly" cross into Syria, together with allied Syrian rebel forces to battle the Kurdish fighters and also ISIS.

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Erdogan discussed plans for the incursion by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The SDF had been a central partner in the U.S. effort to defeat the "Islamic State" in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Washington of playing "very risky 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.

Turkey's foreign minister also said on Wednesday that Erdogan had informed US President Donald Trump of the planned offensive over the weekend after Washington delayed Turkey's efforts to create the safe zone. More than 300 people have been killed in attacks claimed by Daesh in Turkey, where the terrorist group has targeted civilians in suicide bombings and armed attacks in recent years.

European countries called on Ankara to halt the operation and Egypt called it "a blatant and unacceptable attack on a brotherly Arab state".

Mr Trump denied cutting the Kurdish forces adrift and threatened to "totally destroy" Turkey's economy if it acted "off limits" in Syria.

"The United States is working to decide how to handle them", although the Americans have not been directly responsible for incarcerating nor operating the facilities where they are kept, added the Turkish leader.

Experts are dubious on how Turkey would manage such a messy problem while trying to fight the YPG and also establish a planned safe zone east of the Euphrates river to deliver its ambitious plans of repatriating a sizable portion of the 3.6 millions Syrian refugees that it now hosts. Turkey, he said, will never tolerate the creation of a "terror corridor or a terror state" at its border under any circumstances, regardless of the cost.

USA military officials confirmed that they have repositioned about 50 US special force members, who had been operating along the Turkey-Syria border, out of harm's way.

Speaking in a news conference in Algeria, Cavusoglu said the operation will be carried out in accordance with global law and that Turkey will only target militants in the region.

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