Syrian Arab Army troops have entered the northeastern Syrian city of Kobani, a stronghold of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in an attempt to stop the advance of Turkish troops and Turkey-backed rebels in the region, the BBC reported on Wednesday.
Syrian and Russian forces entered the border town of Kobani late on Wednesday, on the seventh day of Turkey’s incursion into northeastern Syria, as part of a deal between the Kurds and Damascus, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Turkish government launched a military offensive called “Operation Peace Spring” on October 9, targeting the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia that leads the SDF, with a stated objective to carve out a 30km-deep “safe zone” along the border.
Ankara reportedly aims to resettle more than three million Syrian refugees, who have come to Turkey after a civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, back in their homeland.
The YPG, a crucial United States ally in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in the region, is considered as a terrorist organization by Turkey due to its links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants who have waged an insurgency in Turkey since the 1980s.
Kobani, a town in the Syrian province of Aleppo that has been one of the key targets of Turkey’s ongoing military action, is where Kurdish and US forces first defeated ISIS militants together four years ago.
US President Donald Trump, who has faced intense criticism for withdrawing US forces from Syria which is interpreted by some as giving Turkey a green light for its long-threatened offensive, on Wednesday told reporters at the White House that Turkey’s operation in Syria was not their problem.
“If Russia wants to get involved with Syria, that’s really up to them. They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border. We shouldn’t be losing lives over it,” Trump said, adding that he saw the situation on the Turkey-Syria border as “strategically brilliant” for the US.
The President held forth that the US is “not a policing agent” and Kurdish forces are “not angels” but mercenaries who fought because they were paid to.
“They fought with us. We made a lot of money for them to fight with us, and that’s okay,” he said.
Brushing off worries that US pullout from the region could pave the way for the re-emergence of ISIS, Trump further argued, closely mirroring Ankara’s talking points, that the outlawed PKK “is probably worse at terror and more of a terrorist threat in many ways than” ISIS.
Trump’s remarks, which contradicted the official assessment of both the U.S. state and defense departments, triggered strong reaction from fellow Republicans who accuse him of abandoning US allies and jeopardizing the country’s leadership in the region.
Trump then engaged in a sharp exchange at the White House with Democratic congressional leaders, labeling Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, as a “third-rate politician.”
Democratic politicians walked out of the meeting after the incident.
Pelosi explained to the press on the White House driveway that Trump seemed “very shaken up” and was having “a meltdown.”
President Trump also rejected giving a “green light” for the Turkish operation, telling reporters on Wednesday that he wrote a “very powerful letter” to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after speaking to him on October 9, the day when the offensive started.
“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool! You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy – and I will,” he told Erdogan in a letter revealed by Anchor Trish Regan from Fox Business news channel.
“History will look on your favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen,” the letter also warned.
The United Nations announced on Wednesday that dozens of have reportedly been killed in the Turkish military offensive in its first week and at least 160,000 people have fled the area.
Security Council of the UN urged Turkey once more on Wednesday to cease its operation in northeast Syria.