Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Wednesday the commencement of a military incursion into Syria.
The Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Syrian National Army, just launched #OperationPeaceSpring against PKK/YPG and Daesh terrorists in northern Syria,” Erdogan wrote on Twitter, using the Arabic nickname for ISIS. The PKK and YPG are Kurdish organizations Turkey classifies as terror groups.
Erdogan continued, “#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.”
Airstrikes were reported near the Turkish-Syrian border moments after Erdogan’s announcement, according to the AFP. The Dubai-based Al-Arabiya reported that Kurdish forces had called on the U.S. and Europe to impose a no-fly zone over the area.
About 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently reside in Turkey, having fled the Syrian civil war. Turkey aims to resettle these refugees in Syria’s northeast, which Kurdish residents say is really an attempt to weaken them demographically by flooding the region with Sunni Arabs.
On Monday, President Trump announced his intention to pull back American troops from the Syrian-Turkish border in anticipation of Turkey’s planned incursion. The announcement drew bipartisan fury in Washington for effectively abandoning Kurdish combatants, who had fought in the American coalition to defeat ISIS.
The Trump administration confirmed on Tuesday that Trump was set to host Erdogan at the White House for a state visit later this month.
Trump has defended his decision to pull back U.S. troops, saying that the military is not abandoning the Kurds, “who are special people and wonderful fighters.” He also threatened to “obliterate” Turkey’s economy if Erdogan did anything he considered to be “off limits.”