Turkey pressed its assault against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria on Thursday for a second day. Turkey pounded the region with airstrikes and an artillery bombardment that raised columns of black smoke in a border town and sent panicked civilians scrambling to get out.
Residents fled with their belongings loaded into cars, pickup trucks and motorcycle rickshaws, while others escaped on foot. The U.N. refugee agency said tens of thousands were on the move, and aid agencies warned that nearly a half-million people near the border were at risk.It was a wrenchingly familiar scene for many who had fled ISIS militants only a few years ago.
The Turkish air and ground assault was launched three days after President Trump opened the way by pulling American troops from their positions near the border alongside their Kurdish allies. Mr. Trump dismissed concerns that Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria could enable hundreds of hardened ISIS fighters to go free as a problem for other countries. At a time when Mr. Trump faces an impeachment inquiry, the move drew swift criticism from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, along with many national defense experts, who say it has endangered not only the Kurds and regional stability but U.S. credibility as well. The Syrian Kurdish militia was the only U.S. ally in the campaign that brought down ISIS in Syria.Commanders of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told CBS News they’ve had to put their operations against ISIS on hold to confront the Turkish invasion, and a senior U.S. military official confirmed to CBS News that operations against ISIS were “effectively paused.”The SDF said the Turkish offensive was jeopardizing security at the overcrowded prisons housing the thousands of ISIS inmates, risking breakouts and a possible ISIS resurgence.Mr. Trump warned Turkey to act with moderation during its assault and safeguard civilians. But the opening barrage showed little sign of holding back: The Turkish Defense Military said its jets and artillery had struck 181 targets so far.More than a dozen columns of thick smoke rose in and around the town of Tel Abyad, one of the offensive’s first main targets. Turkish officials said the Kurdish militia has fired dozens of mortars into Turkish border towns the past two days, including Akcakale.Turkish officials in two border provinces said mortar fire from Syria killed at least six civilians, including a 9-month-old boy and three girls under 15. On the Syrian side, seven civilians and eight Kurdish fighters have been killed since the operation began, according to activists in Syria.