Turkish troops have begun a ground offensive against Kurdish fighters just hours after launching airstrikes in northeastern Syria.
The land assault, alongside the Syrian National Army, comes as US forces began withdrawing from the region.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the campaign, which followed Donald Trump’s decision on Sunday to alter US policy.
“Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” Mr Erdogan said in a tweet.
Image: An airstrike hits the town of Tal Abyad just across the border with Turkey. Pic: Haberturk
He added that Turkish armed forces, together with the Syrian National Army, had launched what they called Operation Peace Spring against Kurdish fighters.
“We will protect the territorial integrity of Syria and free the people of the region from the clutches of terror.”
TV reports in Turkey said airstrikes hit the towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad.
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Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said Turkish warplanes were targeting “civilian areas” in northern Syria, causing “a huge panic” in the region.
Other reports suggested mortar shells had been fired into Turkey from the Syrian side of the border.
There has been no independent confirmation of these claims.
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NATO’s secretary general has urged Turkey not to “further destabilise the region”.
Jens Stoltenberg said Turkey “has legitimate security concerns” having suffered “horrendous terrorist attacks” and hosting thousands of refugees, but that it should act with “restraint” and any action should be “proportionate”.
And France, Britain and Germany are preparing a joint statement to condemn the offensive while the UN Security Council will meet on Thursday.
Image: Turkey has proposed a safe zone, but the Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Force believe it will turn into a crisis zone
Image: Streams of Turkish army vehicles arrived at the border on Tuesday
The Syrian Kurdish forces were long-time US allies in the fight against the so-called Islamic State group.
But expectations of an invasion increased after Mr Trump’s announcement on Sunday, although he also threatened to “totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if the Turkish push into Syria went too far.
Mr Trump’s move has drawn criticism from both Republicans and Democrats at home as well as allies including France and Britain.
However, he defended it saying he is focused on the “BIG PICTURE” that does not include American involvement in “stupid endless wars” in the Middle East.
“Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years. USA should never have been in Middle East,” Mr Trump said in a series of tweets.
“The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!”
Despite this, Mr Trump has said the US “does not endorse” Turkey’s assault on Syria, and called the operation “a bad idea”.
Turkey has been massing troops for days along its border and vowed it would go ahead with the military operation and not bow to the US threat.
Source : Sky News