US denies Syrian state media report that Turkey has begun anti-Kurd offensive

Administration official says only 50-100 American troops have been redeployed away from Syria’s northern border

By TOI staff and Agencies 7 October 2019, 11:33 pm 1 Edit
Syrian Kurds take part in a demonstration against Turkish threats at a US-led international coalition base on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town, in Syria's Hasakeh province near the Turkish border, on October 6, 2019. (Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

A US official denied Syrian state media reports that Turkish forces began bombing Syrian Kurd positions in northeast Syria on Monday evening, and rejected claims of a full American military withdrawal from the area.

Turkey does not appear “as of now” to have launched a military offensive, the official said, according to Reuters.

The US has redeployed only 50-100 troops away from Syria’s northern border as Turkish troops threaten to cross, the senior administration official added, denying reports that Washington pulled out completely from the country.

“It appears the Turks are intent on some sort of military operation,” the official said, adding: “There will be no US armed forces involvement.”

The Syrian Arab News Agency said earlier Monday that Turkey hit positions of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish militia that allied with US forces against the Islamic State group in Syria.

The apparent target was a border crossing between Syria and Iraq in the al-Hasakah region. There were no reports of injuries.

Syria state media aired videos purporting to be of the strikes, though Kurdish media denied an assault by Turkish forces.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened for months to launch a military operation across the border. He views the Syria Kurdish forces as a threat to his country as Ankara has struggled with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

Republicans and Democrats have long warned that allowing a Turkish attack could lead to a massacre of the Kurds and send a troubling message to American allies across the globe.

Several of US President Donald Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill voiced similar concerns Monday, with Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham warning the US withdrawal would also make the situation dangerous for Israel.

“The most probable outcome of this impulsive decision is to ensure Iran’s domination of Syria,” Graham tweeted. “The US now has no leverage and Syria will eventually become a nightmare for Israel.”

Earlier, Graham said he will call on Congress to reverse the sudden decision to withdraw American forces from positions along or near Turkey’s border with Syria.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, Republican-South Carolina, takes questions from reporters following a closed-door briefing on Iran, at the Capitol in Washington, September 25, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

MK Naftali Bennett of the right-wing Yamina alliance said Monday night that the assault on the Kurds was a sign that Israel could only rely on itself when it came to its security.

At this time we, Israelis, pray for the Kurd People who are under a brutal Turkish attack.

The lesson for Israel is simple:

Israel will ALWAYS defend itself by itself.

The Jewish State will never put its fate in the hands of others, including our great friend, the USA.

— Naftali Bennett בנט (@naftalibennett) October 7, 2019
On Sunday night, the White House said US forces in northeastern Syria will step aside and clear the way for an expected Turkish assault — essentially abandoning Kurdish fighters who fought alongside American forces in the years-long battle to defeat the Islamic State group.

Trump defended his decision on Monday, saying that he “was elected on getting out of these ridiculous endless wars.” If Turkey were to do anything “off limits,” he said, he would consequence the country harshly.

“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!),” he tweeted. “They must, with Europe and others, watch over the captured ISIS fighters and families.”

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