Turkey Says Syria Offensive Seeks to Create Safe Zone for Refugees; Trump Calls Move ‘Bad Idea’

October 9, 2019 14:19, Last Updated: October 10, 2019 0:30
By Venus Upadhayaya ,

Turkey has begun a military offensive in territory held by Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria to establish a safe zone to “help refugees return home,” while continuing to fight the ISIS terrorist group, the spokesperson for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told U.S. national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien.

“The safe zone aims to clear terrorist elements from Turkey’s border within the framework of Syria’s territorial integrity and to help refugees return home and that the fight against DAESH [ISIS] will continue with determination,” Ibrahim Kalin told O’Brien in a phone call, according to a statement released by the presidency of the Republic of Turkey on Oct. 9.

On Oct. 9, Erdogan announced on Twitter an offensive named the Operation Peace Spring against Kurdish-led forces—the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Unit (YPG)—and ISIS terrorists.

Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad after Turkish bombings, in a picture taken from the Turkish side of the border near Akcakale in the Sanliurfa province on Oct. 9, 2019. (Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images)

Erdogan announced the start of the operation two days after President Donald Trump said the United States would withdraw forces from northern Syria and handed over responsibility for captured ISIS members to Turkey.

“The Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Syrian National Army, just launched #OperationPeaceSpring against PKK/YPG and Daesh terrorists in northern Syria. Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border and to bring peace to the area,” Erdogan wrote on Twitter.

However, Trump said in an Oct. 9 statement that the United States has made it clear to Turkey that it doesn’t endorse the invasion, and “that this operation is a bad idea.”

Hours before Trump’s statement, Erdogan also talked about the establishment of a safe zone for Syrian refugees in a tweet.

“#OperationPeaceSpring will neutralize terror threats against Turkey and lead to the establishment of a safe zone, facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their homes,” Erdogan said.

“We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists.”

In a spot analysis following Trump’s announcement, Joseph Bahout, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, wrote, “The Turks seek to establish a safe zone in Syria in which they can resettle over a million of the Syrian refugees now in Turkey, whose presence is provoking domestic discontent.”

YPG Fought Alongside US Forces Versus ISIS

Joseph A. Kechichian, a senior fellow at King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, described the U.S. announcement of troop withdrawal as “ill-thought out,” saying the “Kurds trusted Washington and yet for the umpteenth time, they will be abandoned.”

In his statement, Trump explained the rationale for the withdrawal, reiterating that the United States doesn’t endorse Turkey’s offensive in Syria.

“This morning, Turkey, a NATO member, invaded Syria. The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea. There are no American soldiers in the area,” said Trump.

He said he doesn’t want to engage in “endless, senseless wars,” particularly those engagements that are of no benefit to the United States.

“Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment,” Trump said.

Civilians flee with their belongings amid Turkish bombardment on Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province along the Turkish border on Oct. 9, 2019. (Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images)

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Turkey’s attack will make the SDF’s fight against ISIS difficult.

“As the Syrian Democratic Forces, we are determined to defend our land at all costs. We call on our Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, and Syriac people to strengthen their unity and stand by the SDF in defense of their land,” the SDF said.

Meanwhile, as Turkish warplanes have started to carry out airstrikes on civilian areas, “There is a huge panic among people of the region,” SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali said in an Oct. 9 message on Twitter.

“[Two] civilians were killed, some got wounded due to Turkish bombardment in the village of Mashrafa in Serêkaniyê,” Bali said in another message on Twitter.

This story is developing.

Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.

View on