ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies have launched their military operation into northeastern Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, adding that the offensive aimed to eliminate a “terror corridor” along the southern Turkish border.
Erdogan said the offensive, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring”, would aim to eliminate threats from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and the Islamic State militants, and enable the return of Syrian refugees in Turkey after the formation of a “safe zone” in the area.
“Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” Erdogan said on Twitter. “We will preserve Syria's territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists.”
A Turkish security source told Reuters the military operation into Syria has been launched with air strikes and will be supported by artillery and howitzer fire.
Several large explosions on Wednesday rocked the northeast Syrian town of Ras al Ain, on the border across from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar, a CNN Turk reporter said, adding that the sound of planes could he heard above.
He said smoke could be seen rising from buildings in Ras al Ain. As the blasts occurred, President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had launched its planned military operation in northeast Syria.
World powers fear the action could open a new chapter in Syria's war and worsen regional turmoil. Ankara has said it intends to create a “safe zone” in order to return millions of refugees to Syrian soil.
Erdogan earlier told Russia's President Vladimir Putin in a phone call that the operation would help peace and stability in Syria.
But Syria said it was determined to confront any Turkish aggression by all legitimate means.
Turkey views Kurdish YPG fighters in northeast Syria as terrorists because of their ties to militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey, an influx of non-Kurdish Syrians would help it secure a buffer against its main security threat.
Amid deepening humanitarian concerns, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all parties in northeast Syria to exercise maximum restraint and protect civilians.
Kurdish-led forces denounced the U.S. policy shift as a “stab in the back”. Trump denied he had abandoned the forces, the most capable U.S. partners in fighting Islamic State in Syria.