Turkey boosts troops on Syria border after operation warning

Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops near the Turkish border in Hasakah Syria last November

On Tuesday, Turkish officials told Reuters that the military had struck the Syrian-Iraqi border to prevent Kurdish forces using the route to reinforce the region, though details of the strikes were hazy.

Senior Turkish and USA officials discussed measures for the formation of a "safe zone" in northeastern Syria and possible steps after a Turkish offensive in the region, broadcaster NTV said on Wednesday, as Ankara poised to launch its operation.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told Russia's President Vladimir Putin in a phone call the planned operation would help peace and stability in Syria.

The attack comes as Turkey is expected to launch an offensive against the Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, says the attack involved two IS fighters who engaged in a shootout before blowing themselves up.

The Kurdish-led authority in northern Syria declared a state of "general mobilization" in light of the looming attack.

In its call for mobilization, the local Kurdish authority known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria also urged the global community to live up to its responsibilities as "a humanitarian catastrophe might befall our people" in the region.

Altun said Turkey was taking over leadership of the fight against Islamic State in Syria.

Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish presidency's communications director, called on the worldwide community in a Washington Post op-ed published Wednesday "to rally" behind Ankara, which he said would also take over the fight against the Islamic State group.

While Washington saw the Kurds as valuable allies in the fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) extremists, Ankara considers any armed Kurdish factions in Syria to be linked to its own domestic militants, the Kurdistan Workers Party, which it has deemed a terrorist group.

"Turkey will teach a lesson to terror organizations that threatens our southern border and we will give an opportunity for Syrian refugees who are now in Turkey", Oktay said.


Trump has defended his decision to remove United States troops from the area, saying he was "not siding with anybody" - Kurdish forces or the Turkish government - and reiterated an earlier warning to Turkey about potential economic devastation.

Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said "deployments and work is still underway regarding the operation", according to state-run TRT television.

"Despite continued misreporting to the contrary, Secretary Esper and Chairman Milley were consulted over the last several days by the President regarding the situation and efforts to protect USA forces in northern Syria in the face of military action by Turkey", the Defense Department's chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.

Howitzers were positioned behind earth embankments on the Turkish side of the border, pointed towards Syria.

Multiple launch rocket systems were stationed at Suruc, some 60km to the west, opposite the Syrian border town of Kobani, he said. A man in one vehicle waved a rebel flag.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Russia's security council on Tuesday.

A Trump administration official, briefing reporters on a conference call, said the USA troops would be redeployed elsewhere in Syria "where they aren't in the crossfire".

Concerning Syria, he abruptly announced a full withdrawal of US troops last December - only to be convinced to leave a rump force of about 1,000 troops to work with the Kurdish-led forces in the battle to defeat ISIS.

Turkey's lira lost 2% of its value against the dollar to hit its weakest since early September. They were backed by the US, but Turkey views them as terrorists and a threat to the country. The operation would achieve two things at once: the push back against the US-backed Kurdish militias and the placement of at least two million refugees in that safe zone, providing displaced Syrians with a new home in their country of origin.

Amid deepening humanitarian concerns, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all parties in northeast Syria to exercise maximum restraint and protect civilians. "Turkey already has a large Kurdish population and fully understands that while we only had 50 soldiers remaining in that section of Syria, and they have been removed, any unforced or unnecessary fighting by Turkey will be devastating to their economy and to their very fragile currency", he said.

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