Heavy fighting continues as Turkey presses ahead with its military operation against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, now in its sixth day.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the offensive aims to remove the Kurdish-led forces from the border area and create a “safe zone” to which millions of Syrian refugees can be returned.
The move came after the United States announced it was withdrawing its troops from the area, leaving the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), its main ally in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group, without US military support.
Turkey’s defence ministry confirmed the first death among Turkey’s soldiers on Friday, while heavy clashes between Turkish forces and the SDF are under way in Syrian border towns.
Here are the latest updates:
Monday, October 14
Turkey says Kurdish forces emptied ISIL prison in northeast Syria
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar has said Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters had emptied a jail holding Islamic State [ISIL] prisoners in a part of Syria where Ankara is mounting an offensive, and that the prisoners there had been abducted.
Speaking to reporters in Ankara, Akar said the YPG had emptied the only Islamic State prison that Turkish forces had so far reached in the envisaged “safe zone” area, and that the inmates had already been removed.
“As you know, there is a prison issue on this Daesh (Islamic State) topic. We are determined to show the utmost effort on these prisons. However, there was only one prison in our region, a Daesh prison,” Akar said.
“When we went there, we saw that it had been emptied by the YPG and the Islamic State militants there had been abducted. We determined this through photographs and film, talked to our counterpart, and will continue to do so,” he added.
Akar did not say how many prisoners were believed to have been taken from the jail, nor did he elaborate on who had taken the prisoners and where. There was no immediate YPG comment.
EU nations ‘condemn’ Turkish offensive into Syria
European Union nations have unanimously “condemned” the Turkish offensive into northeast Syria and called on all member states to halt arms sales to Ankara.
The statement came after France’s foreign minister reiterated calls on EU foreign ministers to condemn Turkey’s offensive in Syria ahead of a meeting with his counterparts in Luxembourg.
Trump: ‘Kurdish-led forces may be intentionally releasing ISIL militants’
US President Donald Trump has said that Kurdish-led forces in northeast Syria may be releasing captive ISIL fighters to lure US troops back to the area, adding that they could be easily recaptured.
The Turkish onslaught in northern Syria has raised concerns that ISIL fighters and their families held by the Kurdish-led forces long allied with Washington may escape and revive the group. Scores have been said to have escaped already.
“Kurds may be releasing some to get us involved. Easily recaptured by Turkey or European Nations from where many came, but they should move quickly,” Trump said in a series of posts on Twitter.
….Kurds may be releasing some to get us involved. Easily recaptured by Turkey or European Nations from where many came, but they should move quickly. Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2019
NATO’s Stoltenberg defends approach to Turkey’s Syria offensive
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has defended his stance on Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish armed groups in northeast Syria, saying the military alliance should not lose its unity in the fight against ISIL.
Splits in the military alliance have emerged after NATO member Turkey began its offensive in Syria last week, with EU governments threatening sanctions against Ankara. Stoltenberg visited Istanbul on Friday.
“We must not put in jeopardy the gains we have made against our common enemy,” Stoltenberg said at a session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in London, in answer to questions from French and Italian delegates who had challenged what they described as his conciliatory approach to Turkey.
“Turkey is important for NATO … We risk undermining the unity we need in the fight against Daesh (Islamic State).”
Kremlin: ‘We don’t want to consider possibility of clash with Turkey in Syria’
The Kremlin has said it did not want to think about the possibility that Russian and Turkish forces might clash with one another in Syria, adding that Moscow was in regular contact with Ankara, including at a military level.
The Kremlin’s comments came after Syrian Kurdish leaders said that a deal with the Syrian government, brokered by Russia, centred for now on Syrian army troops deploying along the border with Turkey.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Moscow had already warned all sides in the Syrian conflict to avoid any action that could escalate the situation or damage a fragile political process.
Syrian government forces deployed to Ain Issa in northern Syria
Syrian government forces have been deployed to Ain Issa in northern Syria, Syrian state media and a war monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the deployment took place to the front lines of the territory where Turkish forces have mounted a military operation since last week.
Syrian state television showed broadcasts of what it said was the entrance of Ain Issa, where residents were seen welcoming the arrival of Syrian government troops.
US diplomatic team leaves northeast Syria
A United States diplomatic team that was working on stabilisation projects in northeast Syria has left the country, a US official said, a day after Washington said it was withdrawing 1,000 troops from Syria.
The official told Reuters news agency that the troops were still in Syria but early phases of the withdrawal had started, without giving details.
Two US officials said on Sunday the US is considering plans to withdraw the bulk of the troops from northern Syria in the coming days.
Syrian army deploys to town near Raqqa, says state media
The Syrian army has deployed to the town of Tabqa near Raqqa, Syrian state television reported.
The move restores the state’s foothold in an area that is home to a major hydroelectric dam.
Backed by the US, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) battled for weeks to take Tabqa and the nearby dam from ISIL in 2017.
The deployment followed an agreement between the Syrian government and the Kurdish-led forces for the Syrian army to deploy into the area.
Erdogan says US Syria withdrawal ‘positive’
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has welcomed the announcement a day earlier by Washington that it was pulling out 1,000 troops from northern Syria.
“This is a positive approach,” Erdogan told reporters when asked about the statement from US Pentagon Chief Mark Esper.
Erdogan signals imminent entry of Turkish-backed forces into Kobane and Manbij
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that he does not expect there will be problems with President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally Russia, after Syrian government troops deployed to the country’s northeast.
“There would be no problem in Kobane. We are coordinating with Russians. We are decisive about Manbij. We will about to enter with the opposition forces,” said Erdogan.
The developments came after Damascus reached an agreement on Sunday night with the Kurdish-led forces controlling the region to deploy into the area to counter an attack by Turkey.
Syrian army deploys to town in country’s northeast after Kurdish deal
Syrian army troops have entered the town of Tal Tamer in northeastern Syria, state media reported.
The developments come after Damascus reached an agreement with the Kurdish-led forces controlling the region to deploy into the area to counter an attack by Turkey.
Tal Tamer is on a strategically important highway, the M4, that runs east to west. Turkish forces said they had seized the highway on Sunday.
Tel Tamer is 35 km (20 miles) southeast of Ras al-Ain, one of the focal points of the Turkish assault.
France: EU must consider Turkish arms embargo
France’s foreign minister has reiterated calls for European Union foreign ministers to condemn Turkey’s offensive in Syria.
Jean-Yves Le Drian also called for an arms embargo on Ankara and requested that the United States hold a meeting of the coalition against the Islamic State [ISIL].
“This offensive is going to cause serious humanitarian devastation,” Le Drian said as he arrived for a meeting with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg.
“France expects from this meeting … a specific demand to end the offensive … a firm position on arms exports to Turkey and … that the United States holds a meeting of the international coalition (against Islamic State),” he told reporters.
France says securing military in Syria as US begins withdrawal
France has said it was taking measures to ensure the safety of its military and civilians in northeastern Syria as the United States begins to withdraw forces from the area.
France has been one of the main allies in the US-led coalition fighting ISIL.
“Measures will be taken in the coming hours to ensure the safety of French military and civilian personnel present in the zone as part of the international coalition fighting Islamic State and humanitarian action,” the French presidency said in a statement after an emergency defence cabinet meeting. It did not provide further details.
A regional diplomatic source told Reuters on Thursday that Paris was preparing to pull out its several hundred special forces. They are operating closely with Kurdish-led forces, who are now the target of Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria. French aid workers are also in the zone.
Sunday, October 13
Kurds announce deal with Damascus
The Kurdish administration in northern Syria announced a deal with the Damascus government on a Syrian troop deployment near the border with Turkey to confront Ankara’s offensive.
“In order to prevent and confront this aggression, an agreement has been reached with the Syrian government… so that the Syrian army can deploy along the Syrian-Turkish border to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF),” the Kurdish administration said in a statement on its Facebook page.
In their statement the Kurds said that the agreement struck with the Damascus government “paves the way to liberate the rest of the Syrian cities occupied by the Turkish army such as Afrin”, a majority Kurdish enclave in the northwest.
Syrian Kurds ‘agree to allow Assad troops into Kobane’
General Ismet Sheikh Hasan, an official in Kurdish-controlled Kobane, told the Russian news agency RT that Syrian Kurds have reached an agreement with Russia to allow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops into Kobane.
Hassan, the minister of defense of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, also known as Rojava, said Russian and Syrian government troops could enter Kobane and Manbij by Sunday night to help secure the cities from a Turkish-led offensive in northern Syria.
“We agreed with the Russians and the [Assad] regime to enter Kobane tonight,” Hassan told RT.
“We did everything we could,” he said. “We have called upon the West [and] the Arab League but no one is coming to help, so we have no one other than ourselves to defend [Kobane].
“We agreed with the regime and the Russians to come to Kobane,” he added.
Neither the SDF nor Russia have confirmed such an agreement exists.