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Turkey says it will cross into Syria 'shortly,' issues warning to Kurdish fighters

The Hill logo The Hill 09/10/2019 Tal Axelrod

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(Video by: ABC News)

The Turkish government said Tuesday that it will cross into northeastern Syria "shortly," and issued a warning to local Kurdish forces.

"The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army, will cross the Turkish-Syrian border shortly. YPG militants have two options: They can defect or we will have [to] stop them from disrupting our counter-ISIS efforts," Turkish government spokesperson Fahrettin Altun tweeted, referring to the Kurdish militia that has worked closely with the U.S. in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The tweet comes after reports that Ankara bombed the Syrian-Iraqi border in anticipation of an offensive against Kurdish forces, which lead the U.S.-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Turkey has long viewed Kurdish groups in northern Syria as linked with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is labeled a terrorist organization by both Washington and Ankara.

a group of people wearing military uniforms: Turkey says it will cross into Syria 'shortly,' issues warning to Kurdish fighters © Getty Images Turkey says it will cross into Syria 'shortly,' issues warning to Kurdish fighters Altun called on world powers to support Ankara's operation, saying it is fighting "monsters."

"[W]hen monsters attempt to knock down our doors and harm our citizens, we have to respond," he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. "Turkey has no ambition in northeastern Syria except to neutralize a long-standing threat against Turkish citizens and to liberate the local population from the yoke of armed thugs."

President Trump sparked a firestorm in Washington this week after the White House announced that U.S. troops would withdraw from the area in anticipation of the operation, removing the chief deterrent to Ankara's offensive.

A Turkish army officer sits atop this tank as it movers to its new position on the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019.  Tensions have risen at the border between Turkey and Syria, on expectation of a Turkish military incursion into Syria. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) © ASSOCIATED PRESS A Turkish army officer sits atop this tank as it movers to its new position on the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. Tensions have risen at the border between Turkey and Syria, on expectation of a Turkish military incursion into Syria. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) "The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades. I held off this fight for ... almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home," Trump tweeted Monday. "WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN."

The decision sparked bipartisan outcries on Capitol Hill, with both Republicans and Democrats saying Trump was turning his back on the SDF after it fought with U.S. troops against ISIS.

In this Monday Oct. 7, 2019 photo, Turkish-backed forces from the Free Syrian Army, stand in formation during military maneuvers in preparation for an anticipated Turkish incursion targeting Syrian Kurdish fighters, near Azaz town, north Syria. © ASSOCIATED PRESS In this Monday Oct. 7, 2019 photo, Turkish-backed forces from the Free Syrian Army, stand in formation during military maneuvers in preparation for an anticipated Turkish incursion targeting Syrian Kurdish fighters, near Azaz town, north Syria. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a staunch Trump ally and defense hawk, said the decision is a "disaster in the making" that "ensures [an] ISIS comeback" and "will be a stain on America's honor for abandoning the Kurds."

"The President's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Northern Syria is a deeply disturbing development that betrays our Kurdish allies who have been instrumental partners in our mission to eradicate ISIS," added Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a statement. "Despite what the President might say, ISIS remains a serious threat. This reckless, misguided decision undermines the efforts by our brave servicemembers and our allies to end ISIS's tyranny."

Gallery: Here's who controls Syria now (Business Insider)

The SDF has warned the Turkish operation poses a "possible humanitarian catastrophe" and called on world powers to work to prevent the offensive.

"This attack will spill the blood of thousands of innocent civilians because our border areas are overcrowded," SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali said in a statement. "Accordingly, we call on the international community and all countries of the international coalition against ISIS who fought together and triumphed over the so-called ISIS Caliphate to carry out their responsibilities and avoid a possible impending humanitarian disaster."

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