Turkey Begins Assault on Syrian Kurdish Forces, US Lawmakers Vow Backlash

A Turkish air force F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off during Red Flag 16-2 at Nellis AFB, Nev., on March 9, 2016. Air Force photo by A1C Kevin Tanenbaum.

Turkish warplanes on Oct. 9 began bombarding Kurdish targets inside Syria, a long-awaited move that prompted Congressional leaders to promise harsh sanctions for Ankara.

The opening salvo of an operation Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called “Operation Peace Spring” included F-16s bombing Kurdish encampments in villages near the border between Syria and Turkey. The F-16s were launched from bases including Incirlik AB, which is also a USAF base, and Diyarbakir, which has hosted USAF rescue personnel in recent years.

Turkish officials say the operation is to create a “safe zone” pushing back Kurdish fighters, allied with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party inside its country who are viewed as terrorists. The Kurdish fighters in Syria make up the bulk of the Syrian Democratic Forces, who were backed by the US and trained in the war against ISIS.

President Donald Trump, who first gave the green light for the operation during an Oct. 6 phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said in a statement that the US does not endorse the operation and that it is a “bad idea.” Trump said Turkey has committed to protecting civilians and “ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment.”

The Syrian Democratic Forces called on the US and the international coalition for a no fly zone as the attack began, saying it showed “good faith” to the US-endorsed security mechanism that was in place before the operation began. Additionally, the SDF said it had halted all its operations against ISIS.

Neither the Pentagon nor the State Department officially commented about the events as of the evening of Oct. 9.

Many lawmakers of both parties quickly condemned the Turkish actions. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the Kurdish allies had been “shamelessly abandoned” by the administration, and that he will “lead (the) effort in Congress to make Erdogan pay a heavy price.”

The proposed sanctions measure, cosponsored by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), would place sanctions on the US assets of senior Turkish officials, along with sanctions against military transactions with Turkey, and prohibit US military assistance with the country, among other steps.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a statement that while Turkey has legitimate security interests at stake, its “unilateral military intervention in Syria is unacceptable.”

SASC Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said in a statement that the decision to let Turkey proceed is “absolutely horrible.” He called on Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to testify before Congress for the “full accounting of why and how” behind the decision.

The Pentagon, in its statement on Oct. 8 before Turkish strikes began, said Turkey decided to act unilaterally, and that US forces in the region have moved out of the area for their safety. However, there had been no changes to the overall force structure in the country, the statement said.