Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched an operation against Kurdish-led militias in northeastern Syria. Ankara sees the Kurdish militias as terrorists and argues an offensive is needed to bring “peace” to the region.
The operation targets not only Kurdish-led militias, that Ankara believes to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group which is outlawed in Turkey, but also Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists, according to Erdogan.
Turkish aircraft and artillery began striking positions in Syria immediately after Erdogan’s announcement, according to media reports.
A total of 181 targets were hit since the start of operation, the Turkish defense ministry said on Wednesday.
Later in the day, the Turkish military said it launched the land phase of the operation. Army units, as well as affiliated militants from the so-called Syrian “opposition,” began their assault on the SDF positions.
Turkey has closed airspace along the border with Syria amid ongoing airstrikes. Civilian aircraft must stay clear of the area, according to freshly published NOTAMs (notices to airmen).
The air and artillery strikes have been reportedly targeting the vicinity of the Syrian border towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn.
Syrian state media has released footage from Ras al-Ayn showing multiple warplanes in the skies as well as a thick plume of black smoke from a fire caused by the air strikes.
The military operation appears to be primarily targeting the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group largely consisting of ethnic Kurds. The SDF has been a close ally of the US-led coalition, with members serving as foot soldiers for its years-long fight against IS.
The SDF said the Syrian towns of Qamishli and Ain Issa were also targeted by Turkish warplanes. The airstrikes have inflicted civilian casualties, the group added, citing preliminary reports from the ground.
PKK militants, seeking an independent Kurdish state, have been waging a low-intensity insurgency in the southeast of Turkey for decades. The party is listed as a terrorist group not only by Turkey, but also by the US and NATO.