Editor's note: This story contains graphic images of children burned in the Turkish-led offensive.

The United Nations is investigating the possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict in northeastern Syria, according to The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh. The Kurdish Red Crescent has raised concerns about Turkish forces and Turkish-supported opposition forces using chemical weapons.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) told The Guardian that it was "aware of the situation and is collecting information with regard to possible use of chemical weapons," but cautioned that it has "not yet determined the credibility of these allegations."

The allegations were first reported by Lara Seligman in Foreign Policy.

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With northeast Syria engulfed in the fog of war, the Turks, Russians, and Kurds have all launched their own propaganda campaigns to win the battle over information.

One of the biggest unknowns at the moment involves exactly how many ISIS fighters and their families previously captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces have managed to escape since Turkey invaded Kurdish-held Syria on Oct. 6, 2019.

But while Defense Secretary Mark Esper has blamed Turkey for catalyzing the release of "many dangerous ISIS detainees", a senior administration official was unable to say on Monday exactly how many ISIS prisoners may have escaped.

Based on open source reporting, about 850 women and children affiliated with ISIS are believed to have fled a detainee camp at Ayn Issa and another five ISIS prisoners escaped from a prison at Qamishli, said Brandon Wallace, a counterterrorism analyst with the Institute for the Study of War think tank in Washington, D.C.

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey stepped up its air and artillery strikes on Kurdish militia in northeast Syria on Friday, escalating an offensive that has drawn warnings of humanitarian catastrophe and turned Republican lawmakers against U.S. President Donald Trump.

The incursion, launched after Trump withdrew U.S. troops who had been fighting alongside Kurdish forces against Islamic State militants, has opened a new front in the eight-year-old Syrian civil war and drawn fierce international criticism.

In Washington, Trump — fending off accusations that he abandoned the Kurds, loyal allies of the United States — suggested that Washington could mediate in the conflict, while also raising the possibility of imposing sanctions on Turkey.

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In a phone called with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday, President Donald Trump reportedly advised Turkey not to invade northeastern Syria and offered to resume sales of the U.S.'s fifth-generation aircraft, the Lockheed Martin F-35.

Trump offered Erdogan "a really good package," in addition to other benefits and a presidential visit, a senior State Department official told Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin.

Erdogan is still scheduled to visit the White House in November.

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The Turkish military and its Syrian proxies have begun ground operations into Kurdish-held northeastern Syria following airstrikes, Turkey's defense ministry announced on Wednesday.

So far, the Defense Department has not issued a statement about Turkey's invasion of Syria, which is officially called "Operation Peace Spring."

Prior to the invasion, the U.S. military moved around 50 special operators to bases elsewhere in Syria. U.S. and Turkish forces had been conducting joint patrols to make sure that Kurdish fighters with People's Protection Units, or YPG, withdrew from the Turkish border and dismantled their fortifications. But late on Sunday, the White House announced that U.S. troops would withdraw from the region because Turkey planned to launch a military operation into northeast Syria.

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In May 2003, just two months after the U.S. military invaded Iraq and ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, then-Presidential Envoy Paul Bremer and his senior advisor Walter Slocombe drafted the Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 2, a diplomatic document that effectively disbanded the Iraqi Army.

The text was purposefully benign, according to Slocombe, because "There was no intact Iraqi force to 'disband'" in the first place. For Slocombe and Bremer, the order was more a symbolic demolishment of Hussein's legacy — a demonstration, in Bremer's own words, "that neither Saddam nor his gang is coming back."

Now, more than 15 years later, Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 2 (CPA Order 2, for short) is widely seen as one of the U.S.'s biggest blunders in Iraq, a hasty decision that led us right to the current "Forever War" predicament. And, with President Donald Trump's surprise withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern Syria on Monday, the lessons of the decree remain unheeded and unlearned.

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