Akcakale, Turkey — Turkey launched airstrikes and fired artillery aimed at crushing Kurdish fighters in northern Syria on Wednesday after U.S. troops pulled back from the area, paving the way for an assault on forces that have long been allied with the United States. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the campaign, which followed an abrupt decision Sunday by U.S. President Trump that American troops would step aside to allow for the operation.
Mr. Trump’s move has drawn harsh bipartisan opposition at home. It represents a shift in U.S. policy that essentially abandoned the Syrian Kurdish fighters who have been America’s only allies inside Syria in the fight against ISIS.
Mr. Trump offered no explicit condemnation of Turkey in a statement Wednesday.
“This morning, Turkey, a NATO member, invaded Syria,” Mr. Trump said. “The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea. There are no American soldiers in the area. From the first day I entered the political arena, I made it clear that I did not want to fight these endless, senseless wars — especially those that don’t benefit the United States. Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place — and we will hold them to this commitment …”
After Turkey’s offensive began, there was sign of panic in the streets of Ras al-Ayn- one of the towns under attack with residential areas close to the borders. Cars raced to safety, although it was not clear if they were leaving the town or heading away from border areas. Near the town of Qamishli, plumes of smoke were seen rising from an area close to the border after activists reported sounds of explosion nearby.
At least one member of the Kurdish-led force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces was killed in the Turkish bombardment, Kurdish activists and a Syria war monitor said.