Pak ‘in Full Support’ of Turkish Offensive Against Kurds in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan said the offensive targets Kurdish militants and Islamic State in northern Syria.

Updated
World
6 min read

Video Producer: Hera Khan
Video Editor: Vishal Kumar

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that "Pakistan stands in full support and solidarity with Turkey," referring to its offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria, according to news agency AFP.

The move has been met with heavy international condemnation, but Khan on Friday called Erdogan to "convey Pakistan's support and solidarity," his office reportedly said.

“The prime minister told him that Pakistan fully understands Turkey’s concerns relating to terrorism... having lost 40,000 of its people to terrorism”.
Imran Khan’s office

According to his office, the Turkish President is set to visit Pakistan later this month,

Erdogan on Friday, 11 October, said Turkey will not stop its operation against Kurdish militants in northern Syria, dismissing what he called "threats" from other countries.

"Whatever some may say, we will not stop this step that we have taken," Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul. "Now there are threats coming from left and right, telling us to stop this... We will not step back," he added.

Turkey launched an operation on Wednesday after US President Donald Trump pulled American troops from their positions near the border, abandoning US-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters.

The operation was launched against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria that it considers a "terrorist" offshoot of Kurdish insurgents in its own territory.

HOW MANY DEATHS HAVE BEEN REPORTED?

Ten Turkish civilians were killed in cross-border shelling on Friday, 11 October, while four of Turkey's soldiers died as Ankara pressed on with its offensive against Kurdish militants in Syria, AFP reported.

Eight civilians were killed and 35 injured in one mortar strike in Nusaybin in Mardin province, according to the governor’s office cited by local media.

Two others died when a shell hit a house in the town of Suruc, adjacent to Kobane in Syria, the Anadolu news agency reported. That took the total civilian death toll to 17 since cross-border shelling by Kurdish militants began on Thursday, with dozens more injured.

Two Turkish soldiers were killed and three injured in direct fighting with the YPG in northeastern Syria on Friday, the defence ministry said. The other two died after a shell hit a military base in Azaz further west, beyond the zone of the current offensive, according to state news agency Anadolu.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 41 fighters for the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been killed since the operation began.

This comes as India, in an unprecedented move, on Thursday, 10 October, issued a strongly worded statement calling for restraint and urging peaceful settlement.

A US-drafted text calling for Turkey to return to diplomacy is also being considered by the UN Security Council, diplomatic sources told AFP.

Turkey’s onslaught in Syria continues. Its defence ministry indicated that 174 Kurdish fighters have been “neutralized” in its cross-border campaign, reported AP.

The UN has estimated the number of displaced at 1,00,000 since Wednesday, saying that markets, schools and clinics also were closed. Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis, with nearly a half-million people at risk in northeastern Syria.

Earlier, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed his "deep concern" over the spiralling violence in the region.

The five European members of the UN Security Council, France, Germany, Britain, Belgium and Poland, also called on Ankara to halt its military operation against Syrian Kurdish forces, after an emergency meeting.

In their statement, the European countries expressed concern that the Turkish offensive risks providing "fertile ground" for the Islamic State.

Turkey launched a limited number of air strikes, with most of the offensive consisting of  artillery fire across much of its long border with Kurdish-controlled regions of Syria.

Earlier the Syrian Democratic Forces reported "intensive bombardment by Turkish jets on military positions and civilian villages" in the areas of Ras al-Ain, Tal Abyad, Qamishli and Ain Issa.

WHY IS TURKEY ATTACKING NORTHERN SYRIA?

Turkey has long been planning military action against Kurdish forces in northern Syria due to their ties with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984, AFP reported.

However, the US has a history of close collaboration with Kurdish forces in its fight against the Islamic State in Syria. Turkey, being a member of the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), has been under pressure to not take action against the Kurds.

The US recently decided to pull its forces from northern Syria, paving the way for a Turkish assault, even as Donald Trump insists the US hadn’t abandoned its Kurdish allies.

The current offensive, dubbed operation ‘Peace Spring’, was launched by the Turkish Armed Forces, in conjunction with the Syrian National Army (rebel groups backed by Ankara), on Wednesday.

The aim is to establish a "safe zone" in which at least one million Syrian refugees can be repatriated from Turkey, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The offensive officially targets Kurdish militants and the Islamic State group in northern Syria.

HOW HAS INDIA REACTED TO THE OFFENSIVE?

In a press release on Thursday, 10 October, India’s Ministry of External Affairs condemned the “unilateral military offensive by Turkey”. India also urged Turkey to exercise restraint and called for peaceful settlement of issues.

“We are deeply concerned at the unilateral military offensive by Turkey in north-east Syria. Turkey’s actions can undermine stability in the region and the fight against terrorism. Its action also has the potential for causing humanitarian and civilian distress,” the press release read.

The MEA also said, “We call upon Turkey to exercise restraint and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. We urge the peaceful settlement of all issues through dialogue and discussion.”

WHAT STANCE IS THE US TAKING?

US President Donald Trump has authorised, but not yet activated, wide-ranging sanctions aimed at dissuading Turkey from further offensive military action in northeastern Syria, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday, 11 October, AFP reported.

Addressing reporters at the White House, Mnuchin said Trump was poised to sign an executive order approving "very significant new sanctions authorities,” but that the United States was not yet "activating" the measures.

“These are very powerful sanctions. We hope we don’t have to use them but we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to.”
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin

Trump on Wednesday had said that the US does not endorse Turkey's military offensive in Syria, describing it as a bad idea, but defended his efforts to pull American forces out of the region.

The US had also submitted a text to the UN Security council, sources told AFP on Thursday.

"This morning, Turkey, a NATO member, invaded Syria. The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea," Trump said hours after Turkish forces entered northern Syria.

There are no American soldiers in the area, he said.

“From the first day I entered the political arena, I made it clear that I did not want to fight these endless, senseless wars, especially those that don’t benefit the United States.”
Donald Trump, president of the US

Turkey, he said, has committed to protect civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place, and we will hold them to this commitment

"In addition, Turkey is now responsible for ensuring all ISIS fighters being held captive remain in prison and that ISIS does not reconstitute in any way, shape, or form. We expect Turkey to abide by all of its commitments, and we continue to monitor the situation closely,” Trump said.

He had earlier threatened Turkey with economic consequences if it went too far.

HOW HAS THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY REACTED?

The international community is generally opposed to Turkey’s offensive. Only Pakistan has explicitly expressed solidarity, saying that it is “fully cognizant of the threats and challenges being faced by Turkey, having lost 40,000 of its people to terrorism".

The Netherlands is to freeze all weapons exports to Turkey in the aftermath of Ankara's assault on Kurdish forces in northern Syria, the Dutch foreign ministry said on Friday, 11 October, AFP reported.

"The Netherlands have now decided to withhold all licence applications for the export of military goods to Turkey pending the course of the situation," the ministry said in a statement sent to AFP.

The Netherlands, which is part of an international coalition against ISIS and a fellow NATO partner with Turkey also called on EU member states to "exercise restraint and closely follow the criteria for arms exports" to Turkey.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters that Turkey's campaign in Syria might lead to the resurgence of the Islamic State group. He said he was "deeply concerned" about Turkey's actions and the safety of civilians and the Kurdish people, AP reported.

The European's Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called on Turkey to cease its military action in northeast Syria.

She said in a written statement on Wednesday that "renewed armed hostilities in the north-east will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements."

Earlier, Egypt condemned the Turkey's military operation into northern Syria, calling it an "aggression" against Syria's sovereignty, Associated Press reported.

Germany's foreign minister also condemned Turkey's offensive in northern Syria and called on Ankara to end the military action, saying it threatened "a further humanitarian catastrophe and further displacement of persons."

The secretary-general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, also urged Turkey not to “further destabilise the region” through its military action in northern Syria.

Stoltenberg told a news conference in Rome that Turkey, a NATO ally, "has legitimate security concerns," having suffered "horrendous terrorist attacks" and hosting thousands of refugees, according to Associated Press.

(With inputs from AFP and Associated Press)

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