Middle East Fact Sheets

Factsheet: Turkey’s Assault on North East Syria

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Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, in a picture taken from the Turkish side of the border where the Turkish flag is seen in Akcakale on October 10, 2019, on the second day of Turkey's military operation against Kurdish forces. - Turkey has vowed to destroy the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) which controls much of northeastern Syria, and set up a "safe zone" for the return of Syrian refugees. A total of 70 people were so far reported injured across Turkish areas. Families were evacuating and streets emptying in Akcakale, as local authorities called on people to take shelter. (Photo by BULENT KILIC / AFP) (Photo by BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images) 

On Wednesday 9th October Turkey began a ground and air assault on northern Syria, targetting Kurdish-controlled areas. The attack commenced days after United States President Donald Trump ordered American troops to fall back from their positions on the at the Turkish-Syrian border and to abandon support for their Kurdish allies;

Turkey is targeting an American-backed Kurdish militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the primary allies of the US in the fight against ISIS in Syria;

Over 10,000 SDF fighters have been killed so far in the fight against ISIS;
Turkey claims the assault is necessary in order to establish a “safe zone” in northern Syria, where they can relocate Syrian refugees who have fled during the civil war which started in 2011;

The Kurds view the offensive as part of a decades-long attack by Turkey to crush their attempts at greater autonomy;
President Trump has invoked world war two, stating that the Kurds did not support the allies at Normandy in order to justify his decision;
The assault has increased fears of a mass escape of ISIS fighters. The Kurds had been responsible for holding over 10,000 ISIS fighters and their families in detention along with 70,000 collaborators ;

The US is moving some ISIS prisoners to more secure locations elsewhere in Syria, including two British members of ISIS accused of beheading Western hostages, including the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff;

Trump said that any ISIS prisoners freed as a result of the Turkish assault would “go to Europe”;

The assault has already raised diplomatic tensions and insecurity in Europe, with the European Union stating that Turkey’s attack will “further undermine the stability of the whole region”;

In response to the EU, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to send millions of Syrian refugees to Europe if Turkey’s assault is criticized;

The SDF, which is dominated by Kurds, currently controls almost a third of Syrian land;
Turkey plans to establish a 30-kilometer buffer zone into which it will forcibly repatriate 1 million Syrian refugees on Turkish land.