Erdogan says Turkey to launch 'air and ground' operation in Syria | Page 16 | World Defense

Erdogan says Turkey to launch 'air and ground' operation in Syria

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Russian Helicopters Land at Former US Military Base in Northern Syria
22.10.2019

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The American forces had to abandon their facility at the destroyed airfield as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) left the area amid intense clashes with the Turkish Army this month.

Russian Aerospace Forces helicopters have landed at the Tabqa Airfield in the Raqqa Province of Syria, at what was formerly a US military base. The facility is secured by the Syrian Arab Army and militants allied with Damascus.

According to one of the Syrian officers guarding the compound, Daesh terrorists destroyed the landing strip after seizing the base in 2014. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces claimed the area in 2017, allowing the American military to base there.

Turkish Operation Peace Spring, launched on 9 October, caused a significant drawback for militant factions, including US allies in the region. The shift allowed the Syrian military to reclaim several cities after striking a deal with the Kurdish self-defence forces.

Ankara suspended its offensive in Northern Syria, for five days, but promised to continue its battle against the militants despite US sanctions and EU arms sales restrictions.

Addressing the situation in the region, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to fight Daesh terrorists in the region, as well as against the Kurdish-led SDF. Turkish authorities, consider the Kurdish forces to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been fighting against Turkey since 1984, to create an independent Kurdish state in the Middle East, and is banned by Ankara as a terror group.

Damascus also condemned the operation as Turkey, unlike Russia, carries out operations in Syria without permission from the Syrian government.
 

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Exclusive: Inside the State Department's Meltdown with the Kurds
The National Interest has learned from multiple sources about tense meetings between Syrian Democratic Council diplomats and State Department officials who oversee the Trump administration’s policy on Syria.



A State Department official broke a pencil and screamed at the Syrian Kurdish delegation during a dramatic breakdown of relations between the United States and the Syrian Kurds. The high-tension moment in September highlights the diplomatic problems plaguing the Trump administration, which has been trying to broker a cease-fire agreement between Turkey and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
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Although the administration is publicly preaching peace, patience, and cease-fire tactics, its relationship with the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, has been crumbling behind closed doors.

The National Interest has learned from multiple sources about tense meetings between SDC diplomats and State Department officials who oversee the Trump administration’s policy on Syria. The State Department repeatedly pushed for the SDC to work with Turkish-backed Islamist rebels while berating Syrian Kurdish officials and refusing to listen to their concerns, according to multiple sources.
One source with firsthand knowledge of the screaming session told the National Interestthat Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Joel Rayburn, who is a special envoy for Syria, yelled at SDC officials and broke a pencil in a translator’s face. Two sources with secondhand knowledge confirmed this version of events.
“[Rayburn] loves the Syrian Islamist groups,” one of the three sources said. “He thinks they can counter Iran. He is dreaming.”


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“He is pushing [the SDC] to meet with jihadists,” the source added.
A State Department spokesperson initially asked the National Interest to refrain from publishing this story until Wednesday. This would allow the department time to gather “information from a few different sources” that might yield “meaningful, useful answers,” the spokesperson explained in an email. An hour and a half later, after exercising all options to delay the story, the spokesperson issued a statement describing its “efforts to foster a durable, lasting end to the Syrian civil war.”


“[W]e have regularly urged the SDC to enter into dialogue with a wide cross-section of stakeholders, including the Syrian Negotiations Commissions and White Helmets,” the spokesperson said.
The Syrian Negotiations Commission represents rebel groups outside the SDC’s control. The White Helmets are a civil defense organization that operates in areas held by those rebels. Earlier today, President Donald Trump approved $4.5 million in aid to the White Helmets.

In addition to the uptick in tense verbal exchanges, the three different sources described to the National Interest how State Department officials attempted to condemn the brutal murder of Kurdish-Syrian politician Hevrin Khalaf only to have their efforts waylayed by Ambassador James Jeffrey, who oversees anti-ISIS efforts. Jeffrey blocked the statement, they said.
During the Turkish incursion into Syria last week, Turkish-backed elements of the Free Syrian Army kidnapped, murdered, and mutilated Khalaf, who led a joint Kurdish-Arab-Assyrian party called the Syrian Future Party that is unaffiliated with the SDC. Khalaf had met several times with Deputy Special Envoy William Roebuck, a member of Jeffrey’s team.

“On the killing of Havrin Khalaf, the Department responded to reporters’ inquiries on the day of her death, October 12, noting that we found it deeply troubling and condemned any mistreatment and extrajudicial execution of civilians or prisoners,” the spokesperson said.
Two sources also added that the Rayburn told the SDC earlier this month that U.S. forces would not leave Syria even if the SDC or the Syrian Kurdish armed forces asked them to.



Now, even as U.S. troops are stepping aside to allow Turkey to attack U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, Jeffrey’s team is floating plans to peel off Arab components of the Syrian Democratic Forces to build a counter-Iran force far from the Turkish border.
The Trump administration has confirmed that U.S. troops will remain at al-Tanf, a special operations base in southern Syria.


The SDC may have found a more receptive audience with Congress. SDC Executive President Ilham Ahmed met yesterday with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D–MD), who are spearheading an effort to put economic sanctions on Turkey.
Van Hollen told her that he is looking to keep an “adequate” number of U.S. troops in northeastern Syria to deter Turkey.


The Turkish government considers the Kurdish component of the Syrian Democratic Forces an extension of the Kurdish separatist movement inside Turkey. The U.S. military had backed the mixed Kurdish-Arab-Assyrian force against ISIS, but the continued relationship was a source of strain between the Turkish and U.S. governments.
After months of heated negotiations between the United States and Turkey, the U.S. military announced a “security mechanism” in Syria, clearing fortifications and heavy weapons pointed at the Turkish side and allowing joint U.S.-Turkish patrols on the Syrian side of the border.

Trump ended the security mechanism after an October 6 phone call with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. SDC officials were not informed of his decision. Two days later, Turkish forces streamed across the border. Facing domestic backlash, the Trump administration denied that they ever gave Turkey a “green light.”
A temporary cease-fire announced by the Trump administration last week will expire today. If Turkey permanently halts its offensive into Syria, then the United States will lift sanctions on the Turkish economy.


But Turkey’s next move will be determined by meetings in southern Russia, not Washington. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Sochi today in a “heated” discussion that was supposed to last an hour but stretched to six hours.


After the meeting, the two presidents gave Kurdish forces 150 hours to evacuate from all areas up to 30 kilometers south of the border with Turkey and announced the beginning of joint Russian-Turkish patrols up to 10 kilometers south of the border.
The Russian-Turkish deal is nearly identical to the “security mechanism” that Jeffrey had negotiated in August—except with Russian troops in place of U.S. forces.

The SDC declined to comment.
Matthew Petti is a national security reporter at the National Interest and a former Foreign Language Area Studies Fellow at Columbia University. His work has appeared in Reason and America Magazine.
Image: Reuters.
 

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Amnesty International reports Turkey forced refugees into combat zone
Oct. 25, 2019
By Clyde Hughes
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Turkish-backed Syrian fighters move on the way to northern Syria for a military operation in Kurdish areas, near the Syrian border, in Akcakale district in Sanliurfa, Turkey on October 15. Photo by Erdem Sahin/EPA-EFE

Oct. 25 (UPI) -- Amnesty International said in a new report Friday that Turkey has force "hundreds" of Syrian refugees back into the war zone, against international law.

The report said Turkey forcibly deported the refugees back into the country in advance of creating a "safe zone" along the Syrian-Turkish border. The organization said refugees claimed they were beaten and threatened to sign papers falsely stating that they wanted to return to Syria, despite the ongoing violence in the region.

Amnesty International said that while it could not come up with firm figures for how many Syrian refugees have been forced to return to conflict zones, they estimate "hundreds," based on interviews with refugees on the ground.

"Turkey's claim that refugees from Syria are choosing to walk straight back into the conflict is dangerous and dishonest," Anna Shea, a researcher on refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

"Rather, our research shows that people are being tricked or forced into returning. Turkey deserves recognition for hosting more than 3.6 million women, men and children from Syria for over eight years, but it cannot use this generosity as an excuse to flout international and domestic law by deporting people to an active conflict zone," Shea continued.

In the meantime, Turkey and Kurdish forces squared off in various clashes Friday as the Syrian government transported soldiers to northern Syria in an effort to reclaim land it had not controlled through most of its eight-year civil war.

Turkish forces had halted its military operations against the Kurds until Wednesday while giving Kurdish fighters time to leave a buffer zone along the Syrian-Turkish border.

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on the United States to turn over Mazloum Abdi, commander of the Kurdish-led forces in Syria. The request comes after U.S. President Donald Trump hailed Abdi on social media and called for negotiations between the two sides.

"I really enjoyed my conversation with General @MazloumAbdi," Trump said on Twitter Thursday. "He appreciates what we have done, and I appreciate what the Kurds have done. Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the oil region."
 

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Italy’s decision to remove air-defence assets from Turkey unrelated to Syria
Oct 26 2019

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Italy’s decision to remove anti-missile batteries it stationed in Turkey as part of a NATO commitment to defend the country is not a reaction to Turkey’s military operation in Syria, Defence News reported on Friday.

Italy had placed the SAMP/T battery in Turkey’s south-eastern province of Kahramanmaraş in 2016 after Germany decided to withdraw its Patriot systems from Turkey, ending its role in a three-year NATO mission to help bolster the country's air defences against threats from Syria's civil war.

Italy’s Defence Undersecretary Angelo Tofalo told the Italian parliament on Thursday that Italy’s air-defence system and the 130-member military team manning it would be withdrawn as of Dec. 31.

“The end was planned for December this year, and we are therefore carrying out what was planned,” Italian Defence Minister Lorenzo Guerini said in Brussels while attending a NATO defence ministers’ meeting.

NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also made a similar remark.
“The Italian decision was made this spring, the result of them being there for a long time and their mandate ending by the end of the year,” he said.
Spain also has Patriot batteries in Turkey that have been stationed in İncirlik airbase in the southern province of Adana since 2015.

Following the start of Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria on Oct. 9, some European countries have taken measures to suspend new arms sales to Turkey. The possibility of Spain to withdraw its air-defence systems in İncirlik was mentioned in the media, but was denied by the Spanish Embassy in Ankara.

“I expect any (decision about the) extension of the Spanish presence will be taken in consultation with allies,” Stoltenberg said in Brussels.
Ahead of the NATO ministers’ meeting, Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that NATO members should continue helping Turkey deploy air defence equipment on the border.

Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria ended as of Wednesday, after Turkey made two separate deals with the United States and Russia for the withdrawal of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) towards the south from territories along the Turkish border.

Turkey plans to establish a 32 km deep safe zone along a 120 km stretch of the border, while on the east and west of the safe zone Turkish and Russian forces will conduct joint patrols.
 

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Erdoğan should be prosecuted over Syria incursion, says ex-UN investigator del Ponte
Oct 26 2019

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Former prosecutor and UN investigator Carla del Ponte on Saturday said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should be investigated and indicted for war crimes over his country’s military operation in northeast Syria targeting Kurdish forces.

Turkey’s intervention in Syria is a violation of international law, which had reignited the conflict in the war-torn country, Reuters quoted del Ponte, a former member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, as saying.

Turkey launched its cross-border offensive into neighbouring Syria on October 9, aiming to clear the region of the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a group Ankara sees as a threat due to its links to Kurdish separatists on its soil.

Turkey is also looking to repatriate millions of Syrian refugees in the safe zone to be created in the region.

“For Erdoğan to be able to invade Syrian territory to destroy the Kurds is unbelievable,” del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney general who prosecuted war crimes in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, said.

“An investigation should be opened into him and he should be charged with war crimes. He should not be allowed to get away with this scot free,” Reuters quoted del Ponte as telling Swiss newspaper Schweiz am Wochenende in an interview.

Turkey last week halted the military operation under a U.S.-brokered ceasefire, a move that was followed by a negotiation with Moscow for Syrian border guards and Russian military police to clear the YPG from within 30 km (19 miles) of the Syrian-Turkish frontier.

Turkish and Russian forces on Tuesday will start to patrol a narrower, 10-km strip of land in northeast Syria, where U.S. troops had been deployed for years alongside Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State (ISIS).

Ankara has come under criticism from NATO allies over its offensive citing the operation’s damage on the fight against ISIS.

European nations have been reluctant to confront Turkey over its actions after Erdoğan threatened to “open the gates” for refugees to head to Europe, del Ponte said.

“Erdoğan has the refugees as a bargaining chip,” the former UN investigator said.

The Turkish president has repeatedly threatened to release millions of immigrants into Europe if the EU does not support his plans for a safe zone in Syria.

Turkey is currently home to 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
 

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U.S. Military Vehicles Cross Iraqi Border into Northeastern Syria
October 26, 2019
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A U.S. military convoy of about 18 armored vehicles and trucks crossed the Syrian-Iraqi border into northeastern Syria earlier today.

The crossing was confirmed by fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and an official with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), according to a CNN report.

The Pentagon declined to give an official comment on troop movements, citing security reasons.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper confirmed on Friday that troops would remain in the Deir Ezzor region in eastern Syria to prevent the oil fields from being retaken by the Islamic State.

The US was taking the action to “ensure that we can deny ISIS access to the oil fields,” Esper said. “Because we want to make sure they do not have access to the resources that may allow them to strike within the region, to strike Europe, to strike the United States.”

President Donald Trump had tweeted earlier Thursday the US would continue securing oil fields in Syria.
The Oil Fields discussed in my speech on Turkey/Kurds yesterday were held by ISIS until the United States took them over with the help of the Kurds. We will NEVER let a reconstituted ISIS have those fields!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2019
 

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SNA claims have to repelled an offensive by the SAA and SDF in Ras Al Ayn. Ceasefire is due to end soon and it's unclear if it will hold.
 

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Iran Russia Turkey meeting in Geneva: they will all respect Syria territorial integrity

Turkey, Russia, Iran issue joint statement on Syria
Foreign ministers of three nations insist on territorial integrity of Syria ahead of meeting in Geneva
 

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