On Wednesday, the Times reported what we all knew was coming:
Turkey launched airstrikes and fired artillery across its border into northeastern Syria on Wednesday to open a military operation aimed at flushing out an American-backed militia, Turkish and Syrian officials said.
Turkish television stations broadcast video of fighter jets taking off, Howitzers firing and smoke rising from Syrian towns, while images posted on social media showed Syrians fleeing in trucks piled high with their possessions and children. Two civilians were killed and others were wounded, a militia spokesman and a local journalist said.
Turkey has been itching to engage the Kurds in northern Syria for a very long time, but as long as they had the nominal backing of the U.S., it was strictly hands-off. That changed Sunday, when Donald Trump reversed U.S. policy and told Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he would pull back American troops, giving the green light for the offensive:
On Monday, witnesses in Syria saw United States forces withdrawing from two positions in northeastern Syria: observation posts in Tel Abyad and Ein Eissa.
“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” the White House said in a statement released just before 11 p.m. in Washington. “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”
Turkish forces consider the Kurds to be a terrorist force, and there are long historical tensions between the two groups, but Americans have worked with the Kurds because they saw them as an effective counter-balance to ISIS in the region. ISIS may have been “defeated,” but losing our Kurdish allies could weaken our defense against future resurgences.
In addition, it’s believed that any territorial gains made by Turkey will serve as a resettlement area for Syrian refugees who have flooded into Turkey.
The attacks thus far have involved airstrikes and artillery shelling, forcing Kurds to flee en masse, and resulting in the deaths of two civilians:
Now that the partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces has ended, since they're no longer of use to Trump, it only remains to see how aggressively they'll be rooted out by Turkish forces.
In Washington, the reaction was one of surprise from the Pentagon and State Department, who had advised just the opposite. And in Congress, there's bipartisan opposition to Trump's latest maneuver, and it seems to be led, or at least enthusiastically endorsed, by Lindsey Graham:
The leader of the SDF told the Times that he plans to fight the Turks, but it will be an enormous and difficult battle against superior forces.