Turkey pressed ahead with its offensive in northern Syria on Tuesday, Oct. 15, despite U.S. sanctions and growing calls for it to stop, while Syria’s Russia-backed army moved on the key city of Manbij that U.S. forces have withdrawn from.
Russia’s Interfax news agency, citing Moscow’s Defense Ministry, said later that Syrian forces had taken control of an area of more than 1,000 square kilometers around Manbij. This included Tabqa military airfield, two hydroelectric power plants and several bridges across the Euphrates river, it said.
President Donald Trump ordered the pullout of American forces in northeastern Syria a week ago, as part of a plan to extricate the United States from “endless” wars in the Middle East.
Turkey launched an offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria a few days later.
The United States announced on Sunday it was withdrawing its entire force of 1,000 troops from northern Syria. Its former Kurdish allies immediately formed a new alliance with Russia-backed government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, inviting the army into towns across the breadth of their territory.
President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order to place sanctions and visa bans on the Turkish government following Ankara’s offensive into northern Syria.
The move was announced by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outside the White House.
“The president of the United States called on the president of Turkey to stop the invasion,” Pence said near the Oval Office.
“The United States of America simply is not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion in Syria any further. We are calling on Turkey to stand down, end the violence and come to the negotiating table,” he added to reporters.
The United States had imposed sanctions on Turkey’s ministers of defense, interior, and energy, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
According to CBS News, Pence said Trump ordered a hike on steel tariffs and canceled negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey.
Meanwhile, Trump said that some 1,000 troops leaving Syria would now be redeployed to the region to stop the revival of ISIS.
“United States troops coming out of Syria will now redeploy and remain in the region to monitor the situation and prevent a repeat of 2014, when the neglected threat of ISIS raged across Syria and Iraq,” Trump said in a statement.
Pentagon officials on Friday denied that the United States is abandoning its Syrian Kurdish allies.
“We have not abandoned the Kurds. Let me be clear about that,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters. “We have not abandoned them. Nobody green-lighted this operation by Turkey—just the opposite. We pushed back very hard at all levels for the Turks not to commence this operation.”
In the first week of the Turkish assault, at least 154 fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been killed, as well as 128 fighters from Turkish-backed Syrian factions, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It said at least 69 civilians have been killed in Syria. Turkey says six of its soldiers have died, as well as at least 20 Turkish civilians killed by Kurdish mortar fire across the border.
The United Nations says 160,000 people have fled their homes as Turkish forces advance. The regional Kurdish administration puts the number of displaced at 270,000.
The U.N. Security Council will likely meet on Wednesday to discuss the latest developments in Syria, diplomats said, the second such session since Turkey began its offensive.
Reuters, The Associated Press, and Epoch Times reporter Jack Phillips contributed to this report.