Turkey ‘denies launching airstrikes’ on Syrian border crossing

Turkey has denied launching airstrikes on the Syrian border as footage emerged appearing to show an attack.

Donald Trump’s sudden decision to withdraw from northern Syria, effectively washing his hands of the troubled region, left United Nations and European leaders aghast today amid fears it could lead to widespread ethnic cleansing.

The UN is said to be ‘preparing for the worst’ and has warned Turkey not to allow a civilian massacre on the scale of the Bosnian war after the US announced it would step aside and allow President Tayyip Erogdan to move in across the Syrian border.

Tonight, BNL Breaking News tweeted: ‘Reports of Turkish airstrikes on the Kurdish-controlled Semelka border crossing between Syria and Iraq, comes just hours after US withdraws troops from Syria and ‘allowed Turkish invasion’.’ 

And Russian state media outlet Sputnik tweeted that Turkish Air Forces struck a Kurdish base in Hasakah, Syria. But it also reports that Kurdish and Turkish media were denying the strikes.  

US military vehicles travelling down a main road in northeast Syria today. US-backed Kurdish-led forces in Syria said American troops began withdrawing from their positions along Turkey's border in northeastern Syria

US military vehicles travelling down a main road in northeast Syria today. US-backed Kurdish-led forces in Syria said American troops began withdrawing from their positions along Turkey's border in northeastern Syria

US military vehicles travelling down a main road in northeast Syria today. US-backed Kurdish-led forces in Syria said American troops began withdrawing from their positions along Turkey’s border in northeastern Syria

An abandoned checkpoint was seen in Tel Abyad in northern Syria as US troops evacuated the border town today

An abandoned checkpoint was seen in Tel Abyad in northern Syria as US troops evacuated the border town today

An abandoned checkpoint was seen in Tel Abyad in northern Syria as US troops evacuated the border town today

Kurdish fighters, who have led the fight against ISIS, said they had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by Trump’s decision and accused the US of turning its back on its allies and risking gains made in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Fears of chaos in refugee camps and Kurdish-controlled prisons packed with battle-hardened jihadists were sparked as President Trump’s surprise decision to allow Turkey to take control in northern Syria threatened to destabilise the area.

Any ‘security vacuum’ left by the US could lead to ISIS plotting mass prison breaks and instigating the reformation of terror cells.

The EU and the UN warned of a repeat of ethnic cleansing last seen during the Bosnian civil war at Srebrenica, when Bosnian Serb troops slaughtered 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995. 

Russia said Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved, hours after the US announcement, as Trump faced calls to reverse his decision even from members of his own party. 

US forces were seen as they began to withdraw from northern Syria, making way for Turkey to move across the border

US forces were seen as they began to withdraw from northern Syria, making way for Turkey to move across the border

US forces were seen as they began to withdraw from northern Syria, making way for Turkey to move across the border 

The area inhabited by Kurdish people straddles Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia and the area currently controlled by the Kurds crosses over Iraq and Syria. Turkey fears an independent Kurdish state would threaten its security

The area inhabited by Kurdish people straddles Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia and the area currently controlled by the Kurds crosses over Iraq and Syria. Turkey fears an independent Kurdish state would threaten its security

The area inhabited by Kurdish people straddles Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia and the area currently controlled by the Kurds crosses over Iraq and Syria. Turkey fears an independent Kurdish state would threaten its security

A fighter with local armed forces allied with the Kurdish administration stands guard at a military base from which US forces pulled out, in the town of Tel Arqam in Syria's Hasakeh province near the Turkish border yesterday

A fighter with local armed forces allied with the Kurdish administration stands guard at a military base from which US forces pulled out, in the town of Tel Arqam in Syria's Hasakeh province near the Turkish border yesterday

A fighter with local armed forces allied with the Kurdish administration stands guard at a military base from which US forces pulled out, in the town of Tel Arqam in Syria’s Hasakeh province near the Turkish border yesterday

UN officials said they were ‘preparing for the worst’, over fears any new offensive from Ankara would lead to high civilian casualties and lead to mass displacement 

Trump responded to fears of Turkish military action targeting civilians by saying he will ‘totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey’ if it stepped out of line.

He tweeted this afternoon: ‘As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!). They must, with Europe and others, watch over the captured ISIS fighters and families.

‘The U.S. has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!’

The president’s threats caused Turkey’s currency to slide to its lowest level in more than a month. 

The move marks a major shift in US policy, and effectively abandons the Kurds, who were Washington’s main ally in the years-old battle against ISIS.

But US Senator Lindsey Graham, a top ally of Donald Trump, said he would be calling on Congress to reverse the president’s decision.

President Trump later defended his administration’s withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, saying ‘the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out’. 

He said it was too costly to keep supporting US-allied Kurdish-led forces in the region fighting the Islamic State.

Trump said in a series of tweets: ‘The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out.’ 

Trump said it’s now time to bring US troops home, adding in all-caps in a series of tweets: ‘WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.’

The president also said it’s now up to the region to decide what to do with captured ISIS fighters, adding: ‘We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!’ 

President Trump took to Twitter to threaten Turkey and demand Europe must 'watch over' captured ISIS fighters

President Trump took to Twitter to threaten Turkey and demand Europe must 'watch over' captured ISIS fighters

President Trump took to Twitter to threaten Turkey and demand Europe must ‘watch over’ captured ISIS fighters 

US and Turkish military forces conduct a joint ground patrol inside the security mechanism area in northeast Syria last Friday

US and Turkish military forces conduct a joint ground patrol inside the security mechanism area in northeast Syria last Friday

US and Turkish military forces conduct a joint ground patrol inside the security mechanism area in northeast Syria last Friday

A US soldier sits on top of an armoured vehicle during a demonstration by Syrian Kurds against Turkish threats next to a base for the US-led international coalition on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town near the Turkish border yesterday

A US soldier sits on top of an armoured vehicle during a demonstration by Syrian Kurds against Turkish threats next to a base for the US-led international coalition on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town near the Turkish border yesterday

A US soldier sits on top of an armoured vehicle during a demonstration by Syrian Kurds against Turkish threats next to a base for the US-led international coalition on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town near the Turkish border yesterday

Syrian Kurds gather around a US armoured vehicle during a demonstration against Turkish threats next to a base for the US-led international coalition on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town yesterday

Syrian Kurds gather around a US armoured vehicle during a demonstration against Turkish threats next to a base for the US-led international coalition on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town yesterday

Syrian Kurds gather around a US armoured vehicle during a demonstration against Turkish threats next to a base for the US-led international coalition on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town yesterday 

Trump made his case for backing out of Syria in a series of tweets that appeared to please no one on Monday morning

Trump made his case for backing out of Syria in a series of tweets that appeared to please no one on Monday morning

Trump made his case for backing out of Syria in a series of tweets that appeared to please no one on Monday morning

A senior State Department official later contradicted the president and said the US had pulled back a ‘very small number’ of troops from areas of northern Syria along the Turkish border and that it was still controlling the air space over the area.

The official added that those troops had only been moved a ‘very short distance,’ adding: ‘Beyond that, there’s no change to our military posture in the northeast.’

Graham, chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee and one of Trump’s most outspoken supporters on Capitol Hill, described the move as ‘a disaster in the making’ that would be ‘a stain on America’s honour for abandoning the Kurds’.

He added in a tweet: ‘Also, if this plan goes forward will introduce Senate resolution opposing and asking for reversal of this decision. Expect it will receive strong bipartisan support.’ 

Republican Senator Mitt Romney called the withdrawal ‘a betrayal’ that facilitates a jihadist resurgence. 

Trump’s former UN envoy Nikki Haley, a Republican seen by some as a potential post-Trump presidential candidate also criticised the withdrawal.

Haley said, calling the Kurds ‘instrumental’ in the US fight against ISIS: ‘We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.’

It was feared the departure of the US from the volatile border region could leave Turkey free to crush the Kurds, who hoped to forge their own state in the aftermath of the defeat of ISIS. 

Iran’s foreign minister says the United States is an ‘irrelevant occupier’ in Syria and that the conflict-torn country’s territorial integrity should be respected.

Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a tweet today: ‘US is an irrelevant occupier in Syria-futile to seek its permission or rely on it for security.’

He added that Syria’s eight-year civil war could only be ended through ‘respect for its territorial integrity & its people’.

Zarif said ‘Adana provides framework for Turkey & Syria,’ referring to Iran- and Russia-backed talks.

  • EU and the UN warned of repeat of ethnic cleansing last seen during the Bosnian civil war at Srebrenica that saw 8,000 Muslim men and boys slaughtered
  • France today called on Turkey to avoid taking any unilateral action in northern Syria that could ‘hurt regional stability’ of northeastern region
  • Assad ally Russia, has warned that Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved
  • Kurdish fighters who have led the fight against ISIS and were Washington’s main allies said they had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by Trump’s sudden decision 
  • Trump ally US Senator Lindsey Graham said he would be calling on Congress to reverse the president’s move to withdraw
  • Republican Senator Mitt Romney called the withdrawal ‘a betrayal’ that facilitates a jihadist resurgence 

The Pentagon warned Turkey against the ‘destabilising consequences’ of military action in Syria.

A senior State Department official said the United States does not support the planned Turkish incursion into northeast Syria ‘in any shape or form’.

‘It is a very bad idea,’ the official said while briefing reporters and added that Ankara’s plan to resettle millions of Syrian refugees back into northeast Syria was ‘probably the craziest idea I have ever heard’. 

Pentagon Spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said: ‘We will work with our other NATO allies and Coalition partners to reiterate to Turkey the possible destabilising consequences of potential actions to Turkey, the region, and beyond.’ 

A senior UN aid official said today that civilians must be spared in any Turkish military operation in northeast Syria, where the United Nations hopes mass displacement and Srebrenica-like killings can be prevented.

US soldiers previously worked closely with Kurdish forces of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the YPG militia, in the battle to destroy Islamic State’s caliphate. 

But Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group and has long threatened to launch an assault on the Kurds as Ankara sees the group’s growing power along its border as a threat to its security. 

The Kurdish fighters, who are allied with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has waged an insurgency against Turkey for 35 years.

The US has already warned Kurdish fighters that they will not defend them from any Turkish attack, an unnamed American official has claimed. 

Within hours of the announcement, Turkish media reported a bomb attack in a northern Syrian town held by Turkey-backed fighters killed at least one person.

CNN-Turk television said at least two other people were wounded when a motorcycle laden with explosives went off in the town of Azaz today. 

Azaz, which was once controlled by Syrian Kurdish fighters opposed to Turkey, has been hit by similar attacks in the past.    

A military base (above) from which US forces pulled out in the town of Tel Arqam yesterday

A military base (above) from which US forces pulled out in the town of Tel Arqam yesterday

A military base (above) from which US forces pulled out in the town of Tel Arqam yesterday

A members of the Kurdish Internal Security Police Force of Asayesh standing guard as Syrian Kurds demonstrate against possible Turkish military operation in the region

A members of the Kurdish Internal Security Police Force of Asayesh standing guard as Syrian Kurds demonstrate against possible Turkish military operation in the region

A members of the Kurdish Internal Security Police Force of Asayesh standing guard as Syrian Kurds demonstrate against possible Turkish military operation in the region 

President Erdogan during a news conference in Ankara today before his departure for Serbia, where he said US troops have started to withdraw from positions in northern Syria

President Erdogan during a news conference in Ankara today before his departure for Serbia, where he said US troops have started to withdraw from positions in northern Syria

President Erdogan during a news conference in Ankara today before his departure for Serbia, where he said US troops have started to withdraw from positions in northern Syria

Syrian Kurdish women carry flags and banners as they demonstrate against Turkish threats to launch a military operation on their region in the town of Al-Qahtaniyah, in northeastern Syria

Syrian Kurdish women carry flags and banners as they demonstrate against Turkish threats to launch a military operation on their region in the town of Al-Qahtaniyah, in northeastern Syria

Syrian Kurdish women carry flags and banners as they demonstrate against Turkish threats to launch a military operation on their region in the town of Al-Qahtaniyah, in northeastern Syria

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by a surprise US statement that US forces would not be involved in a Turkish operation in northern Syria, the SDF said. 

Turkey said it will not permit ISIS to return, amid fears its threatened offensive against a Kurdish militia in Syria could bolster the jihadists, a presidential spokesman said today. 

Fahrettin Altun, communications director for President Erdogan, said on Twitter today that, ‘Turkey’s intension is clear: to dismantle the terrorist corridor on our border. To fight against [the] PKK, which is the enemy of the Kurdish people. To combat [IS] and prevent its resurgence.

‘Areas liberated from PKK will have services provided by Turkey, rather than enduring the occupation by a terrorist militia.’

Speaking after a phone call with President Trump, Erdogan said that the operation could begin at any moment as Russia warned Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved. 

How Turkey’s expected invasion of Syria would threaten the Kurds who defeated ISIS

What is Turkey’s problem with the Kurds?

Turkey has historically treated the Kurds unsympathetically and has effectively made them ‘mountain Turks’ by driving them into the hilly areas around the south of the country.

The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, better known as Atatürk, pushed through a constitution 70 years ago which denied the existence of distinct cultural sub-groups in Turkey, which the Kurds fall under.

Due to this, when the Kurds – along with other minorities in the country – express ethnic differences it has been repressed by the government.

Up until 1991 the daily use of the Kurdish tongue was outlawed and seen as separatism, and even today any minor expression of Kurdish nationalism can lead to imprisonment.

The government thwarts any effort by the Kurds to become political, with parties consistently shut down and party members often imprisoned for ‘crimes of opinion’.

The historical repression led to the creation of the PKK, an armed separatist movement, in 1984. Most Kurds in Turkey do not promote separatism from the Turkish state, but a large number back the PKK.

Who are the Kurds?

There are around 35million Kurds living in the hilly parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia – making them the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East.

Yet they do not have a permanent state. They do not have an official dialect but are part of a united community through race, culture and language.

The Kurdish people are made up of a number of religions but they are mostly Sunni Muslims.

The idea of a ‘Kurdistan’ came about in the 1900s following the fall of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War.

The Treaty of Sevres among the Western nations in 1920 also made provision for one.

But just three years later the Treaty of Lausanne overwrote this as it set the new boundaries for Turkey.

There was no space for a Kurdistan and left them stranded as a minority community in other countries. Attempts over the rest of the 20th Century to bring about an independent state were dashed at every turn.

What do they want?

The Kurdish people make up around 10 per cent of the Syrian population and most lived in Damascus and Aleppo before uprisings started against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011.

Despite this, they have never had basic rights and at least 300,000 have had citizenship requests denied since the 1960s.

Land has also been consistently taken from them and given to Arabs in a bit to ‘Arabize’ the area.

In 2011 when uprisings got underway, most Kurds did not publicly back a side, but from halfway through 2012 they seized the opportunity when government forces withdrew to fight rebels elsewhere.

The main Kurdish parties, notably the Democratic Union Party in January 2014  announced the creation of ‘autonomy’ for the areas of Afrin, Kobane and Jazira.

This escalated to a ‘federal system’ in March 2016 in Turmen and Arab areas snatched from ISIS.

This, unsurprisingly, was turned down by Assad, as well as the country’s official opposition and the Americans.

The Democratic Union Party claims it is not looking for independence, but says there must be Kurdish legal rights and autonomy in any political end to the Syrian war.

In government there has been a disparity, with Assad pledging to fight back for all of Syria, but his foreign minister hinting at possible talks with the Kurds in September 2017. 

What does Turkey want?

Turkey wants a ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria – 30 kilometres deep and 300 miles wide – that would push the YPG away from its border.

It says the buffer zone would also allow for the return of some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey, where anti-refugee sentiment is growing.

The YPG spearheaded the fight on the ground against the Islamic State (IS) group as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, with the support of the US-led international coalition.

But Ankara says the YPG is a ‘terrorist’ offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

A victory for Erdogan?

Since Erdogan has long pushed for the ‘safe zone’, the US move is ‘absolutely’ a victory for him, said Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

‘Erdogan has been working tirelessly to convince (US President Donald) Trump that the US should leave Syria so that Turkey can prosecute the fight against the YPG and resettle Syrians,’ he said.

The White House decision came after a phone call between Trump and Erdogan, demonstrating the Turkish leader’s ability to convince his American counterpart despite resistance within the US administration.

‘By giving the green light to Turkey to intervene, the United States has given the impression of having ‘capitulated’ with Turkish demands,’ said Jana Jabbour, a Turkish foreign policy expert at Sciences Po in Paris.

‘This in itself is a diplomatic victory for Erdogan,’ she said.

Challenges ahead?

Turkey has launched two military operations supporting Syrian opposition fighters – in northern Syria against IS in 2016 and against the YPG in 2018.

But a question remains over Turkey’s ability in the air.

During the offensive against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in early 2018, Ankara needed Russia’s permission for Turkish planes to take off.

The latest plan is much bigger in scope – and more expensive.

‘A new Syria operation will generate economic costs, and it is not certain that in the context of the current recession in Turkey the country has the means for such an operation,’ Jabbour said.

She also pointed to growing scepticism among the Turkish public towards Ankara’s involvement in the ‘Syrian chaos’.

‘This is why Ankara would have preferred an agreement with the United States for the establishment of the safe zone on the border, a scenario which would have allowed Turkey to share the burden with Washington,’ Jabbour said.

How to manage IS?

Turkey has another burden, as the White House said Ankara would now be responsible for IS fighters captured over the past two years and held in Kurdish detention centres.

Trump, who has frequently urged European governments to repatriate jihadists from their countries, has now pushed the problem onto Turkey.

Erdogan said Monday that Washington and Ankara would work on the issue together but he did not elaborate on the form of the eventual cooperation.

‘Now Turkey has to confront IS, which shows every indication of trying to regroup and threaten the countries in the area,’ Cook said.

However, Erdogan’s spokesman insisted in a tweet on Monday that Turkey ‘will not allow (IS) to return in any shape and form’.

The pull-back of troops comes hours after the White House announced Ankara would soon move forward with its objective to create a ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria and that US soldiers will not support or be involved in it. 

But there are fears a Turkish advance will reverse years of work done to drive extremists out and allow ISIS to regroup.

The US-backed SDF that controls much of the northeast region along Turkey’s border, added it ‘will not hesitate for a single moment’ to defend itself from an expected Turkish invasion and threatened ‘all-out war on the entire border’.  

France called on Turkey to avoid taking any unilateral action in northern Syria that could hinder the ongoing fight against ISIS.

The statement from the Foreign Ministry Monday warned Turkey’s threatened military incursion into northern Syria could ‘hurt regional stability’ and not help with the return of refugees to the area – as Ankara has promised. 

More French fighters joined the extremist group than any other European nationality. France has been reluctant to allow the militants home, even to face trial. 

The White House released a statement Sunday, saying President Trump spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erogdan by telephone to discuss the plans for Turkey to invade northern Syria (both leaders pictured in June 2019)

The White House released a statement Sunday, saying President Trump spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erogdan by telephone to discuss the plans for Turkey to invade northern Syria (both leaders pictured in June 2019)

The White House released a statement Sunday, saying President Trump spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erogdan by telephone to discuss the plans for Turkey to invade northern Syria (both leaders pictured in June 2019) 

Map shows Euphrates Shield, which was a cross-border operation by the Turkish military and Turkey-aligned Syrian opposition groups during the Syrian Civil War. It led to the Turkish occupation of northern Syria

Map shows Euphrates Shield, which was a cross-border operation by the Turkish military and Turkey-aligned Syrian opposition groups during the Syrian Civil War. It led to the Turkish occupation of northern Syria

Map shows Euphrates Shield, which was a cross-border operation by the Turkish military and Turkey-aligned Syrian opposition groups during the Syrian Civil War. It led to the Turkish occupation of northern Syria

Syrian Kurds take part in a demonstration against Turkish threats at a US-led international coalition base on the outskirts of Ras al-Ayn town near the Turkish border yesterday

Syrian Kurds take part in a demonstration against Turkish threats at a US-led international coalition base on the outskirts of Ras al-Ayn town near the Turkish border yesterday

Syrian Kurds take part in a demonstration against Turkish threats at a US-led international coalition base on the outskirts of Ras al-Ayn town near the Turkish border yesterday

Members of the Kurdish Internal Security Police Force of Asayesh stand guard in Al-Qahtaniyah during a demonstration by Syrian Kurds against Turkish threats to launch a military operation on their region

Members of the Kurdish Internal Security Police Force of Asayesh stand guard in Al-Qahtaniyah during a demonstration by Syrian Kurds against Turkish threats to launch a military operation on their region

Members of the Kurdish Internal Security Police Force of Asayesh stand guard in Al-Qahtaniyah during a demonstration by Syrian Kurds against Turkish threats to launch a military operation on their region

Germany also expressed concerns at the prospect of an incursion by Turkey into northeastern Syria, saying such an intervention could further destabilise the war-torn country.

Ulrike Demmer, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, said today that Germany is aware of the ‘special security policy situation’ that Turkey faces on its border. 

Previous Turkish incursions into Syria

By AFP 

Turkey has previously launched two operations into Syria – in 2016 and 2018 – to push back from its border Islamic State group jihadists and Kurdish militia fighters. 

Known as Euphrates Shield, Turkish artillery pound dozens of ISIS targets around the Syrian border town of Jarabulus, near the Euphrates river in the early hours of August 24, 2016.

Turkish F-16 fighter jets and coalition war planes launch air strikes.

It is the start of operation Euphrates Shield, targeting IS and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a US-backed Kurdish militia that Ankara considers a terrorist group.

In a few hours, hundreds of Syrian rebels backed by Turkish aircraft and tanks drive IS from Jarabulus.

The offensive is launched days after an attack blamed on IS that killed 54 civilians in the Turkish town of Gaziantep.

Turkey also wants to prevent the creation of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria.

It had been alarmed when the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had earlier in August captured from IS the strategic Syrian town of Manbij, 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the Turkish border.

Turkey says the YPG is a ‘terrorist offshoot’ of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

On February 24, 2017, the Turkish army announces it has taken control of the Syrian town of Al-Bab, the final objective of Euphrates Shield and the last IS bastion in Syria’s northern Aleppo province.

For Ankara, control of the town means it can establish a buffer between the different Kurdish-controlled territories in northern Syria, preventing them from uniting. 

On January 20, 2018, Turkey launches a major air and ground operation, dubbed Olive Branch, against the YPG in Syria’s region of Afrin, about 30 kilometres from the border.

The next day, Turkish tanks and soldiers enter the region. Ankara says it aims to create a security zone deep inside Syria.

On March 18, Turkish forces and their Syrian auxiliaries oust the Kurdish militia from the town of Afrin and raise the Turkish flag.

Scenes of looting by pro-Turkish fighters draw condemnation.

Pro-Turkish forces strengthen their control of Afrin, which is emptied of its tens of thousands of inhabitants.

The fighting displaces about half of the Kurdish enclave’s 320,000 people, according to the United Nations, while rights groups document abuses after the Turkish-backed rebel takeover.

Amnesty International has charged that the Turkish armed forces have ‘turned a blind eye’ to violations.

Nearly 300 civilians were killed in the operation, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor.

Also dead are around 1,500 Kurdish militiamen and 400 pro-Turkish fighters, it says.

Turkey says it lost 45 soldiers.

But she cautioned that successes against ISIS, which she noted were achieved in significant part by Syrian Kurdish forces with international support, ‘must not be endangered’. 

Demmer said that a unilateral military intervention ‘would lead to a further escalation in Syria and contribute to a continued destabilisation of the country.’ She said it would also have negative security policy and humanitarian consequences.

A US official said American forces had evacuated two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn in northeast Syria, along the Turkish border. Other US forces in the region were still in position for now, the official added.

Kurdish-led forces in northeast Syria confirmed today that US forces had withdrawn from areas at the border with Turkey where a threatened Turkish offensive would hurt its war against ISIS and roll back five years of security achievements. 

A video posted by a Kurdish news agency showed a convoy of American armored vehicles apparently heading away from the border area of Tal Abyad. 

Pictures also showed abandoned checkpoints in Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn after US troops evacuated the border towns.

Erdogan spoke hours after the White House said US forces in northeastern Syria will move aside and clear the way for an expected Turkish assault – essentially abandoning Kurdish fighters who fought alongside American forces in the years-long battle to defeat ISIS.  

The White House released a statement late on Sunday, saying President Trump spoke with Erogdan by telephone to discuss the plans and the US will remove all of its forces from the ‘immediate area’. 

Russia, which has supported President Bashar al-Assad with an aerial bombardment campaign on his own people, said Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Moscow was aware that Turkey shared Russia’s position on Syria’s territorial integrity, adding: ‘We hope that our Turkish colleagues would stick to this position in all situations.’

He reiterated Moscow’s stance that all foreign military forces ‘with illegal presence’ should leave Syria.

Turkey said it will not permit the ISIS to return to the region, amid fears its threatened offensive against a Kurdish militia in Syria could bolster the jihadists. 

Ibrahim Kalin, a presidential spokesman, wrote on Twitter today: ‘Turkey will also continue to fight against DAESH (IS) and will not allow it to return in any shape and form.’

The Kurdish-led SDF said the US withdrawal threatened to create a security vacuum that would ‘reverse the successful effort to defeat ISIS’.

Abdulkarim Omar, who acts as foreign minister for the Syrian Kurds, said on Monday the statement is unclear as the detention areas are far from the border zone where Turkey is expected to make its incursion.

He said the US troop withdrawal from the border will have ‘catastrophic consequences’ because Kurdish-led forces would be preoccupied with defending the border, instead of protecting detention facilities or the crowded al-Hol camp which houses over 73,000 people, many of them IS families and supporters.

Omar called on the international community to work to reverse President Donald Trump’s ‘illogical’ decision or stop the Turkish offensive. 

But the European Union simply called for calm in northern Syria and warned that fresh fighting there is only like to drive more people from their homes. 

This would be Turkey’s third such incursion since 2016. Motivated largely by the aim of containing Syrian Kurdish power, Turkey already has troops on the ground across an arc of northwestern Syria, the last stronghold of anti-Damascus rebels. 

US military vehicles were seen driving northwards in northern Syria today, ahead of an anticipated Turkish invasion of the region that the Kurds say will overturn five years of achievements in the battle against ISIS

US military vehicles were seen driving northwards in northern Syria today, ahead of an anticipated Turkish invasion of the region that the Kurds say will overturn five years of achievements in the battle against ISIS

US military vehicles were seen driving northwards in northern Syria today, ahead of an anticipated Turkish invasion of the region that the Kurds say will overturn five years of achievements in the battle against ISIS

A US official said American forces had already evacuated two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn in northeast Syria, along the Turkish border

A US official said American forces had already evacuated two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn in northeast Syria, along the Turkish border

A US official said American forces had already evacuated two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn in northeast Syria, along the Turkish border

The US informed the commander of the Kurdish-led SDF forces in Syria on Monday morning that US forces will not defend them from Turkish attacks anywhere, according to a source.  

‘Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operating into Northern Syria,’ the US statement reads. 

‘The Unites 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.’ 

The White House also confirmed that Turkey plans to take into custody all ISIS fighters captured over the past two years that European powers have refused to take in. 

‘The United States Government has pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused.’

‘The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer. Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area capture over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial ”Caliphate” by the United States.’ 

Ankara said its planned ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria could allow up to two million Syrian refugees to return.

The safe zone ‘will serve two purposes: secure Turkey’s borders by eliminating terrorist elements and allow refugees to return to their homes,’ Kalin said.

He said Turkey had ‘no interest in occupation or changing demographics’.

There are over 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, the highest number in the world, which has become an increasing source of tension in the country. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organisation that reports on the war, said US forces had withdrawn from an area between the towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. 

The SDF, led by the Kurdish YPG militia, said the Turkish invasion ‘will have a great negative impact’ on the war against ISIS.

Turkish forces artillery pieces being driven to their new positions near the border with Syria in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, yesterday

Turkish forces artillery pieces being driven to their new positions near the border with Syria in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, yesterday

Turkish forces artillery pieces being driven to their new positions near the border with Syria in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, yesterday 

US-backed Kurdish-led forces in Syria said US troops began withdrawing today from their positions along Turkey's border in northeastern Syria, ahead of an anticipated Turkish invasion. Pictured (above are Turkish artillery moving into position yesterday)

US-backed Kurdish-led forces in Syria said US troops began withdrawing today from their positions along Turkey's border in northeastern Syria, ahead of an anticipated Turkish invasion. Pictured (above are Turkish artillery moving into position yesterday)

US-backed Kurdish-led forces in Syria said US troops began withdrawing today from their positions along Turkey’s border in northeastern Syria, ahead of an anticipated Turkish invasion. Pictured (above are Turkish artillery moving into position yesterday) 

Syrian Interim Government's Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff, Major General Salim Idris (left) lead a military drill of members of Turkey-backed Syrian National Army, held in Afrin district of Syria today

Syrian Interim Government's Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff, Major General Salim Idris (left) lead a military drill of members of Turkey-backed Syrian National Army, held in Afrin district of Syria today

Syrian Interim Government’s Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff, Major General Salim Idris (left) lead a military drill of members of Turkey-backed Syrian National Army, held in Afrin district of Syria today

The Syrian National Army, made up of Syrian opposition forces and backed by Ankara, held military exercise in Afrin, Syria, near the border with Turkey, to support Turkish Armed Forces, ahead of Turkey's planned operation east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria

The Syrian National Army, made up of Syrian opposition forces and backed by Ankara, held military exercise in Afrin, Syria, near the border with Turkey, to support Turkish Armed Forces, ahead of Turkey's planned operation east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria

The Syrian National Army, made up of Syrian opposition forces and backed by Ankara, held military exercise in Afrin, Syria, near the border with Turkey, to support Turkish Armed Forces, ahead of Turkey’s planned operation east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria

A military drill of Members of The Syrian National Army, held in Afrin district of Syria today

A military drill of Members of The Syrian National Army, held in Afrin district of Syria today

A military drill of Members of The Syrian National Army, held in Afrin district of Syria today

It said in a statement: ‘Despite our efforts to avoid any military escalation with Turkey and the flexibility we have shown to move forward in establishing a mechanism for the security of the borders …the American forces did not fulfill their commitments and withdrew their forces from the border areas with Turkey.

‘Turkey is now preparing for an invasion operation of northern and eastern Syria,’ added the SDF, which with US backing in recent years defeated Islamic State, across much of northern and eastern Syria.

The Turkish military operation ‘will have a great negative impact on our war against the Daesh organisation and will destroy everything that has been achieved with regards to stability during the last years,’ it added.

In a statement the SDF said: ‘The American forces did not abide by their commitments and withdrew their forces along the border with Turkey.  

Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted Saturday, before the announcement was made: ‘We will not hesitate to turn any unprovoked attack by Turkey into an all-out war on the entire border to DEFEND ourselves and our people.’ 

The Kurds have custody of thousands of captured ISIS militants, including about 2,500 highly dangerous foreign fighters from Europe and elsewhere – their native countries have been reluctant to take them back – and about 10,000 captured fighters from Syria and Iraq.

Kurdish officials have expressed concerns of a possible breakout by ISIS prisoners in case of fighting in the area.

Syrian Kurds gather around a US armoured vehicle during a demonstration against Turkish threats next to a US-led international coalition base on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town in Syria's Hasakeh province near the Turkish yesterday

Syrian Kurds gather around a US armoured vehicle during a demonstration against Turkish threats next to a US-led international coalition base on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town in Syria's Hasakeh province near the Turkish yesterday

Syrian Kurds gather around a US armoured vehicle during a demonstration against Turkish threats next to a US-led international coalition base on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town in Syria’s Hasakeh province near the Turkish yesterday

US and Turkish military forces conducting the third ground combined joint patrol inside the security mechanism area in northeast Syria last week

US and Turkish military forces conducting the third ground combined joint patrol inside the security mechanism area in northeast Syria last week

US and Turkish military forces conducting the third ground combined joint patrol inside the security mechanism area in northeast Syria last week

The Turkish and US troops start their second joint ground patrol within a planned safe zone in northern Syria along the Syrian-Turkish border, in Sanliurfa, Turkey, last month

The Turkish and US troops start their second joint ground patrol within a planned safe zone in northern Syria along the Syrian-Turkish border, in Sanliurfa, Turkey, last month

The Turkish and US troops start their second joint ground patrol within a planned safe zone in northern Syria along the Syrian-Turkish border, in Sanliurfa, Turkey, last month

US and Turkish military forces conduct a joint ground patrol inside the security mechanism area in northeast Syria last month

US and Turkish military forces conduct a joint ground patrol inside the security mechanism area in northeast Syria last month

US and Turkish military forces conduct a joint ground patrol inside the security mechanism area in northeast Syria last month 

Asked about the White House comments, Erdogan said that both Turkey and the US were working separately to see ‘what steps can be taken’ so that foreign fighters in prison can be repatriated.

‘This is being worked on,’ he said today.

A senior UN envoy for Syria said the fighting sides should ‘put people first’ amid concerns an invasion by Turkish forces into a densely populated area could be triggered. 

Panos Moumtzis, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Syria, speaking in Geneva today, stressed there were ‘a lot of unanswered questions’ about the consequences of the operation.

He added civilians must be spared in any Turkish military manoeuvres and added that the UN had seen a ‘bitter history’ of safe zones in places like Srebrenica.

Moumtzis was referring to the slaughter by Bosnian Serb troops of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995 in a UN-declared ‘safe zone’ where Dutch peacekeepers were unable to protect civilians. 

He said: ‘We don’t know what is going to happen…we are preparing for the worst.

‘We understand that there is going to be some kind of security zone which will be very specifically targeted to a military operation or to an area where there has to be some clearance.

‘So our hope is that there will be full cooperation by all to make sure that it happens as smoothly as possible, without resulting in displacement, and ensuring protection of civilians, ensuring that the basic principles of humanity will be respected on the ground.’

He said the UN’s priorities were to ensure that any prospective Turkish offensive not result in new displacements, that humanitarian access remain unhindered and that no restrictions be put in place on freedom of movement.

The UN has a contingency plan to address additional civilian suffering, but ‘hopes that will not be used,’ Moumtzis said.   

More than 1,000 US troops are currently deployed in northeastern Syria but will no longer be present during the invasions. 

The US soldiers work closely with the Kurdish YPG, which leads the Syrian Democratic Forces in the regions. 

Turkey is highly likely to wait until US soldiers have withdrawn from northern Syria before launching an offensive, a senior Turkish official said today.

He added that the withdrawal of US forces from the planned area of operations could take one week and that Ankara was highly likely to wait for this in order to avoid ‘any accident’. 

‘The Unites States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation,’ the statement reads

Fighters from a new border security force under the command of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) dance during a graduation ceremony in Hasaka, northeastern Syria, last January

Fighters from a new border security force under the command of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) dance during a graduation ceremony in Hasaka, northeastern Syria, last January

Fighters from a new border security force under the command of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) dance during a graduation ceremony in Hasaka, northeastern Syria, last January 

On Monday, the US-backed SDF said such an operation would reverse years of successful Kurdish-led operations to defeat the Islamic State group and allow some of its surviving leaders to come out of hiding.

It also warned that a Turkish invasion would pose a threat to SDF-run prisons and informal settlements housing thousands of IS jihadists and their families.  

Ankara wants to push the US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces from its border, saying that the group is a ‘terrorist’ offshoot of Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

The Turkish military has twice launched offensives in Syria – against IS in 2016, and in 2018 against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the SDF.

Long marginalised, Syria’s Kurds have – beyond heavy campaigns against IS – essentially stayed out of the country’s eight-year civil war, instead setting up their own institutions in areas under their control.

Timeline of US involvement in Syria since 2011

Pressure on Assad

On April 29, 2011, a month after the first protests in Syria that were met with brutal force by the regime, Washington imposes sanctions on several Syrian officials.

The measures extend to President Bashar al-Assad the following month.

On August 18, US president Barack Obama and Western allies for the first time explicitly call on Assad to stand down.

In October, the US ambassador leaves Syria for ‘security reasons’. Damascus recalls its ambassador from Washington.

Obama backs off ‘red line’

In August 2013, the Syrian regime is accused of carrying out a chemical attack near Damascus that killed more than 1,400 people, according to Washington.

Despite having vowed to act with force if Syria crossed the chemical weapons ‘red line’, Obama at the last minute pulls back from punitive strikes on regime infrastructure.

Instead, on September 14, he agrees to a deal with Moscow – Assad’s main backer – that is meant to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

US targets IS

On September 23, 2014, the US and Arab allies launch air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State (IS) group, expanding a campaign underway in neighbouring Iraq.

The biggest contributor to the coalition, Washington deploys 2,000 soldiers, mostly special forces.

In October 2015, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Syrian Arab alliance of some 50,000 fighters, is created with US backing.

Dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, it receives US training and aid in the form of arms, air support and intelligence.

The SDF later overruns IS in northeastern Syria, driving out the jihadists from their last patch of territory in the village of Baghouz in March 2019.

Trump orders strikes

On April 7, 2017, US forces fire a barrage of cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat airbase, believed to be the launch site of a chemical attack that killed 88 people in Idlib province.

It is the first direct US action against Assad’s government and President Donald Trump’s most significant military decision since taking office in January 2017.

On April 14, 2018, the US – with the support of France and Britain – launches new retaliatory strikes after an alleged regime chemical attack on the then rebel-held town of Douma, in which some 40 people were killed.

Withdrawal announced

On December 19, 2018, Trump announces that all of the roughly 2,000 US troops in Syria will be withdrawn because IS had been ‘defeated’.

The surprise decision prompts Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign and is met with concern by France, Britain and Germany, but praise from Russia and Turkey.

On January 16, 2019, a suicide attack claimed by IS kills four US servicemen and 15 others at a restaurant in Syria’s northern city of Manbij.

It is the deadliest attack against US forces since they deployed.

On August 7, Turkish and US officials agree to jointly manage a buffer zone between the Turkish border and areas in Syria controlled by the YPG, which Istanbul considers a ‘terrorist’ threat.

US steps aside

But on October 6, Washington announces that US forces would withdraw from the border areas to make way for a ‘long-planned operation’ by Turkish forces.

The following day, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirms that Turkish action against Kurdish militants in Syria is imminent.

The United Nations says it is ‘preparing for the worst’ and the European Union warns that civilians could be harmed.

In the areas of Ras al-Ayn, Tal Abyad and Kobane, all bordering Turkey, Kurdish forces have dug trenches and tunnels in preparation for a Turkish offensive, the Observatory said Sunday. 

The US announcement will likely be seen as a long-feared abandonment of Kurdish allies who bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against the Islamic State militants.

Bali also tweeted that his group is not expecting the US to protect northeastern Syria, adding: ‘But people here are owed an explanation regarding the security mechanism deal and destruction of fortifications.’ 

European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said on Monday that ‘renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will not only exacerbate civilian suffering and lead to massive displacement but will also risk severely undermining current political efforts’.

Kocijancic says the EU remains committed to Syria’ ‘unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity’ and that a long-term solution to the conflict ‘will not be reached through military means but requires a genuine political transition.’

The official Twitter account of the Syrian Democratic Forces said Sunday night that it had fulfilled its commitment to the US proposal for the 'security mechanism' along the border and says that any Turkish attack will 'reverse the successful effort to defeat #ISIS

The official Twitter account of the Syrian Democratic Forces said Sunday night that it had fulfilled its commitment to the US proposal for the 'security mechanism' along the border and says that any Turkish attack will 'reverse the successful effort to defeat #ISIS

The official Twitter account of the Syrian Democratic Forces said Sunday night that it had fulfilled its commitment to the US proposal for the ‘security mechanism’ along the border and says that any Turkish attack will ‘reverse the successful effort to defeat #ISIS

In an agreement between Ankara and Washington, joint US and Turkish aerial and ground patrols had started in a security zone that covers over 78 miles (125 kilometers) along the Turkey-Syria border between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. 

The SDF had removed fortification from the areas, considered a threat by Turkey, and withdrawn with heavy weapons.

But Turkey and the US have disagreed over the depth of the zone, with Ankara seeking to also have its troops monitor a stretch of territory between 19 to 25 miles (30 and 40 kilometers deep). Erdogan has continued to threaten an attack.

The United Nations currently delivers aid to 700,000 people in the densely-populated northeast region of 1.7 million. 

Speaking to reporters in Ankara before departing for a visit to Serbia, Erdogan also said he planned to visit Washington to meet with Trump in the first half of November. 

He said the two leaders would discuss plans for the ‘safe zone’, and added that he hoped to resolve a dispute over F-35 fighter jets during his visit.

The official Twitter account of the Syrian Democratic Forces said on Sunday night that it had fulfilled its commitment to the US proposal for the ‘security mechanism’ along the border and says that any Turkish attack will ‘reverse the successful effort to defeat #ISIS.

‘But Erdogan’s threats are aimed to change the security mechanism into a mechanism of death, displace our people & change the stable & secure region into a zone of conflict and permanent war,’ the SDF tweeted, warning that a Turkish military invasion would make Syria ‘a permanent conflict area’.   

Muslim convert Jack Letts, from Oxfordshire, has been pictured gaunt and lying on the floor in an overcrowded jail in northern Syria

Muslim convert Jack Letts, from Oxfordshire, has been pictured gaunt and lying on the floor in an overcrowded jail in northern Syria

Muslim convert Jack Letts, from Oxfordshire, has been pictured gaunt and lying on the floor in an overcrowded jail in northern Syria

For months, Turkish Erdogan has threatened to launch the military assault against Kurdish forces across the border he views as a threat to his country. 

Republicans and Democrats have warned that allowing the Turkish attack could lead to a massacre of the Kurds, sending a troubling message to American allies across the globe. 

One of the ISIS soldiers expected to be moved to Turkish custody is British Jihadi Jack Letts, who was pictured just days ago. 

Dubbed ‘Jihadi Jack’, he was filmed among dozens of fellow Islamic State (IS) prisoners, also in orange jumpsuits, who have been captured by Kurdish militia.

The 23-year-old Muslim convert from Oxfordshire, who declared himself an ‘enemy of Britain’ and fled to the Middle East to join IS, has been stripped of his UK citizenship.  

His mother Sally Lane pleaded for Letts to be allowed to return and face trial in this country so that he can be rescued from the conditions in which he is being held, but the Home Office dismissed her plea.

Seeing the first images of Letts in his cell since he was taken prisoner two years ago, she told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It’s heart-rending to see your son like this and to feel so completely powerless.

‘We have been pressing the Red Cross for months to tell us what the jail is really like, but they always refuse, saying that to release this information would jeopardise their access.’

A risky victory for Erdogan after US Syria withdrawal

By AFP

What does Turkey want?

Turkey wants a ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria – 30 kilometres deep and 480 kilometres (300 miles) wide – that would push the YPG away from its border.

It says the buffer zone would also allow for the return of some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey, where anti-refugee sentiment is growing.

The YPG spearheaded the fight on the ground against the Islamic State (IS) group as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, with the support of the US-led international coalition.

But Ankara says the YPG is a ‘terrorist’ offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

A victory for Erdogan?

Since Erdogan has long pushed for the ‘safe zone’, the US move is ‘absolutely’ a victory for him, said Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

‘Erdogan has been working tirelessly to convince (US President Donald) Trump that the US should leave Syria so that Turkey can prosecute the fight against the YPG and resettle Syrians,’ he said.

The White House decision came after a phone call between Trump and Erdogan, demonstrating the Turkish leader’s ability to convince his American counterpart despite resistance within the US administration.

‘By giving the green light to Turkey to intervene, the United States has given the impression of having ‘capitulated’ with Turkish demands,’ said Jana Jabbour, a Turkish foreign policy expert at Sciences Po in Paris.

‘This in itself is a diplomatic victory for Erdogan,’ she told AFP.

Challenges ahead?

Turkey has launched two military operations supporting Syrian opposition fighters – in northern Syria against IS in 2016 and against the YPG in 2018.

But a question remains over Turkey’s ability in the air.

During the offensive against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in early 2018, Ankara needed Russia’s permission for Turkish planes to take off.

The latest plan is much bigger in scope – and more expensive.

‘A new Syria operation will generate economic costs, and it is not certain that in the context of the current recession in Turkey the country has the means for such an operation,’ Jabbour said.

She also pointed to growing scepticism among the Turkish public towards Ankara’s involvement in the ‘Syrian chaos’.

‘This is why Ankara would have preferred an agreement with the United States for the establishment of the safe zone on the border, a scenario which would have allowed Turkey to share the burden with Washington,’ Jabbour said.

How to manage IS?

Turkey has another burden, as the White House said Ankara would now be responsible for IS fighters captured over the past two years and held in Kurdish detention centres.

Trump, who has frequently urged European governments to repatriate jihadists from their countries, has now pushed the problem onto Turkey.

Erdogan said Monday that Washington and Ankara would work on the issue together but he did not elaborate on the form of the eventual cooperation.

‘Now Turkey has to confront IS, which shows every indication of trying to regroup and threaten the countries in the area,’ Cook said.

However, Erdogan’s spokesman insisted in a tweet on Monday that Turkey ‘will not allow (IS) to return in any shape and form’.

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