Turkish troops have begun an offensive in northern Syria, with a potential for direct conflict with Kurdish-led forces allied with the United States.
The move was announced by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said on his official Twitter account Wednesday that the operation, named “Peace Spring,” had been launched.
He said the aim of the operation is to protect Turkey by eradicating “the threat of terror.”
Earlier, Turkish television reports said Turkish jets had bombed Syrian Kurdish positions across the border from Turkey.
A spokesman for Kurdish fighters in northern Syria was cited by The Associated Press as saying that Turkish warplanes had already started launching attacks.
BREAKING: A spokesman for Kurdish fighters in northern Syria says Turkish warplanes have started attacking the region.
— The Associated Press (@AP) October 9, 2019
Turkey said it wants to create a “safe zone” cleared of a Kurdish militia that will also house some of Turkey’s 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
US Withdraws Troops
President Donald Trump controversially withdrew U.S. troops ahead of the action but said Turkey may face economic consequences if its actions in northern Syria are excessive.
“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!),” Trump wrote on Twitter on Oct. 7.
Trump’s announcement to withdraw troops was met with blowback by several officials, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said he would draft legislation to place sanctions on Turkey should the country cross the Syrian border and attack Kurdish forces.
Other opponents of the move said that the United States was abandoning its Kurdish allies, claiming that the ISIS terrorist group would return to the region. They have also claimed that it would effectively be a green light to allow Turkish forces to attack Kurds.
Trump has maintained that the Kurds “fought with us” but were paid large amounts of money and were provided equipment to do so, he wrote on Twitter.
The president made the statement following a phone call between him and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to Reuters, the United States began pulling troops back from northeastern Syria on Monday.
‘We Do Not Endorse a Turkish Operation’
The Pentagon later said the United States doesn’t endorse Turkey’s planned offensive in northern Syria, saying the U.S. military won’t support it in any way.
“The Department of Defense made clear to Turkey—as did the President—that we do not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria. The U.S. Armed Forces will not support, or be involved in any such operation,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told Reuters.
And Kurdish forces said that it would fight back if Turkey launched an assault, raising the prospect of armed conflict in the area.
“We will not hesitate for a moment in defending our people” against Turkish troops, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.
The Kurdish fighters, who are known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), aided the United States in defeating jihadi terrorists in Syria. But the Turkish government views them as a terrorist insurgency linked to the Marxist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Jack Phillips and The Associated Press contributed to this report.