Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s offensive in northeastern Syria has killed 109 “terrorists”, NATO’s favorite autocrat said Thursday, during a speech in Ankara.
Airstrikes have been carried out up to 18 miles into Syria, and the operation – euphemistically dubbed “Operation Peace Spring” – is “ongoing”, Turkey says. According to Turkish officials, the military has hit ammunition depots, sniper roosts, tunnels and military bases.
A ground operation is in progress and civilians are fleeing the besieged areas by the thousands as Erdogan unleashes pent-up rage after getting what amounted to a green light from Donald Trump on Sunday, when the US president agreed to pull some 50 special operators from YPG border posts.
The UN Security Council will meet Thursday to discuss the situation. In a letter to the body, Erdogan promised the operation would be “proportionate, measured and responsible”.
On Wednesday, faced with a furious backlash from Republican allies, Trump reiterated his promise to decimate the Turkish economy if Erdogan doesn’t act in a “humane” way. The incursion – targeting America’s staunchest allies in the fight against ISIS – should be “soft” and “fair”, a clueless Trump said.
Erdogan continues to insist that he has the capability and desire to process and handle the tens of thousands of ISIS captives held by Kurdish forces and their allies in the region. The world has its doubts.
The EU powers – who requested the Security Council meeting – incurred Erdogan’s wrath on Thursday. In a familiar threat, the Turkish strongman said he would “open the doors” and flood Europe with more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey if Europe characterizes his cross-border incursion as an “invasion”.
He also lambasted Saudi Arabia and Egypt for criticizing the operation. “They are not honest, they just make up words”, he said. “We, however, take action and that is the difference between us”. That’s just another manifestation of the proxy dispute between the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia on one side, and Qatar and Turkey on the other. That animosity flares up from time to time, in Libya, for example.
The Turkish Defense Ministry is pretty excited about the whole thing. “Our heroic commandos taking part in Operation Peace Spring are continuing to advance east of the Euphrates”, their official Twitter account said. “The designated targets were seized”.
Turkey has also cracked down on social media activity critical of the assault. Dozens of people were staring down legal action as of Wednesday. Erdogan looks to have launched a fresh witch hunt (sorry) aimed at lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish HDP as well. Nearly two-dozen officials have been detained, according to the media.
Meanwhile, the Kurds continue to warn that ISIS jailbreaks are imminent. “This attack will definitely reduce and weaken the guarding system for those Daesh militants in the prisons”, Badran Jia Kurd told Reuters on Thursday, adding that “this could lead to their escape or to behaviors that may get out of the control of the security forces”.
Lindsey Graham is working furiously to craft an aggressive response. After two solid days of scathing criticism aimed at Trump, Graham is looking to advance a bipartisan bill imposing sanctions on Turkey and barring the sale of US military equipment to Ankara, which was already at odds with US lawmakers over the S-400 debacle.
The sanctions would also target Erdogan’s assets.
Desperate for better optics, Trump had the US take possession of two high-profile ISIS detainees. “In case the Kurds or Turkey lose control, the United States has already taken the 2 ISIS militants tied to beheadings in Syria, out of that country and into a secure location controlled by the U.S.”, Trump said late Wednesday.
On Thursday morning, the US president told the Kurds they’re on their own. “Let the Kurds fight their own battles (even with our financial help)”, he tweeted, adding that he would “hit Turkey very hard financially & with sanctions if they don’t play by the rules!”
There are no “rules” in Syria and even if there were, Erdogan wouldn’t play by them.