Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel associates attacked Kurdish militia in northeast Syria Wednesday, hitting them with airstrikes and artillery before beginning a cross-border ground operation that would transform an eight-year-old battle.
The assault commenced days after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled American troops out of the way, prompting accusations from senior members of his Republican Party who say he deserted the Syrian Kurds, loyal allies of Washington.
Turkish media broadcasted troops entering Syria at four points, two of them close to the Syrian city of Tel Abyad and two near Ras al-Ain further east.
Turkey informed the United Nations Security Council in a letter seen that its military operation could be “proportionate, measured and responsible.” The 15-member body will amass Thursday to talk about Syria at the request of the five European members, Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, and Poland.
Thousands of people fled Ras al-Ain toward Hasaka province, held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Turkish airstrikes killed five civilians and three fighters from the SDF and injured dozens of civilians, the SDF said.
Journalists at Akcakale, Turkish side of the border, watched as blasts hit Tel Abyad. After dark, the red flare of rockets could be seen hurled across the border into Tel Abyad, and flames burned near the city. Blasts from Tel Abyad could be heard eight hours into the attack. A witness reached by phone said civilians had been fleeing en masse.
SDF fighters repulsed a ground attack by Turkish troops in Tel Abyad, SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali wrote on Twitter.