Turkey poised to attack in Syria after US forces decamp

Ankara: Turkish forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army will cross the Syrian border "shortly", President Tayyip Erdogan's communications director says, as a surprise withdrawal of US troops made way for the Turkish incursion.

Turkey has been poised to advance into north-east Syria since US troops began vacating the area in an abrupt policy shift by US President Donald Trump widely criticised in Washington as a betrayal of America's allies, the Kurds.

Turkish officials told Reuters on Tuesday the military had struck the Syrian-Iraqi border to prevent Kurdish forces using the route to reinforce the region, though details of the strikes were hazy.

President Erdogan's aide Fahrettin Altun said that fighters from the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria could either defect or Ankara would have to "stop them from disrupting" Turkey's struggle against the Islamic State militants.

A Turkish army officer jumps from his tank on the Turkish side of the Syrian border as forces reposition ahead of a move into Syria.Credit:AP

"The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army, will cross the Turkish-Syrian border shortly," Altun said in a tweet extracted from a column written by him that was published in the Washington Post.

"Turkey has no ambition in north-eastern Syria except to neutralise a long-standing threat against Turkish citizens and to liberate the local population from the yoke of armed thugs," the column said.

Turkey has said it intends to create a "safe zone" in order to return millions of refugees to Syrian soil but the scheme has alarmed some Western allies as much as the risks posed by the military operation itself.

For Turkey, which views Kurdish YPG fighters in north-east 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.

The US withdrawal from the area will leave Kurdish-led forces long-allied to Washington vulnerable to attack by the Turkish Armed Forces.

Locals cheer as a convoy of Turkish forces passes on its way to the Syrian border.Credit:AP

Signalling a further potential shift in the region's power balance, the Kurdish-led forces said they might start talks with the Syrian government and Russia to fill a security vacuum in the event of a full US withdrawal.

Trump denied he had abandoned the Kurdish forces, the most effective US partners in fighting Islamic State in Syria, but he praised Turkey as a trade partner in a softening of tone hours after threatening to "totally destroy" Turkey's economy if it acted "off limits" in Syria.

Mustafa Bali of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said the Turkish military build-up, together with information about further mobilisation of Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, indicated that "an attack is imminent".


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