Turkey continued its ferocious assault on Kurdish-held northern Syria Friday, after Donald Trump effectively abandoned the Kurds, a key US military partner in the fight against ISIS.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, said at least 17 civilians, 41 Kurdish SDF fighters, and 34 Turkish-backed rebels had been killed since the launch of the offensive Wednesday. Turkey, meanwhile, claimed Friday that it had killed 342 Kurdish fighters and lost two soldiers in the fighting. It said nine civilians had been killed on Turkish soil from shelling from across the border.
The war monitor said Turkish forces and their proxies were attacking Kurdish positions along the border region with air strikes, rocket fire, and heavy artillery. But in a counteroffensive overnight, Kurdish forces managed to recapture two of the 11 villages they had lost since fighting broke out Wednesday.
Beyond the rising death toll, the assault has sparked a mass exodus of civilians, with at least 70,000 people having fled border towns like Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad on the frontlines of the battle, and many more expected to follow.
The mass displacement threatened to create a new humanitarian crisis in the region, the U.N. warned Friday.
Amnesty International said the destabilizing impact of the offensive meant about half a million people in the border region were potentially at risk. “Hostilities will impact and restrict access to humanitarian aid, pushing the civilian population, which has already suffered years of violence and displacement, to the brink,” said Europe director Marie Struthers.
Facing widespread condemnation for having triggered the invasion by effectively greenlighting the Turkish offensive, Trump raised the possibility Thursday of imposing sanctions on Ankara.
“We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!” he tweeted.
Asked by reporters at the White House which option he favored, he said: "I hope we can mediate.”
Trump has faced heavy criticism even within his own party for betraying the Kurds, a critical ground partner against ISIS who lost 11,000 soldiers fighting the terror group.
Late Thursday, dozens of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives said that they would introduce legislation to impose sanctions against Turkey. "President Erdogan and his regime must face serious consequences for mercilessly attacking our Kurdish allies in northern Syria," Rep. Liz Cheney said in a statement.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a staunch Trump ally, has repeatedly urged the president to rein in Turkey, calling on Twitter for Trump to impose sanctions, re-establish safe zones for the Kurds, and take steps to prevent the escape of ISIS detainees from Kurdish jails.
Kurdish authorities currently hold about 12,000 ISIS fighters and about 70,000 of their family members in camps and prisons across northern Syria. The outbreak of fighting has sparked fears that the terror group could stage a mass prison break, as Kurdish resources are redeployed to fight the Turkish advance.
Trump acknowledged the threat of jailbreaks this week by announcing that two high-profile ISIS executioners had been transferred into U.S. custody, and saying that any escaped fighters would be “going to be escaping to Europe… back to their homes.”
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin — a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, expressed concern of a renewed ISIS threat amidst the fighting.
“They could just escape,” he said during a visit to Turkmenistan. “I’m not sure if the Turkish army can rapidly get this under control.”
Cover: Syrian Kurdish fighters of Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army enter Turkey from Syria to join fighting alongside Turkish forces against US-backed Kurds, in Syria, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. Turkish forces pushed deeper into northeastern Syria on Friday, the third day of Ankara's cross-border offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters that has set off another mass displacement of civilians and met with widespread criticism from the international community.(Ugur Can/DHA via AP)