Crisis in Syria
March 2, 2020

Turkey shot down two Syrian Su-24 fighter jets and struck several bases deep in Syrian government territory, killing hundreds of Syrian forces and destroying armaments, Turkey's Defense Ministry said, calling the attacks retaliation for airstrikes that killed 36 Turkish soldiers on Thursday. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey has killed 2,200 Syrian troops and destroyed significant amounts of heavy weaponry and armaments since the conflict between Syria and Turkey escalated in the past few days. Danny Makki, a Syrian analyst, put the number of Syrian troops killed in the hundreds.

Turkey's offensive appears to have erased or at least stopped Syria's recent push to recapture the last opposition strongholds in Idlib province, The Washington Post reports. "Russia, Syria's most important ally, refrained from intervening on its behalf for the first time since the Idlib fighting first erupted last year, suggesting an unwillingness by Moscow to allow the spiraling confrontation between Turkey and Syria to jeopardize its relationship with Ankara or to escalate into a wider conflict with an important NATO member." The U.S., Turkey's ally, also has troops in eastern Syria.

Turkey has repeatedly warned Syria and its allies to stop their march toward the Turkish border, sending waves of refugees into Turkey in what the United Nations has deemed one of the worst humanitarian crises of the nine-year-old Syrian war. Turkey has opened its northern border, allowing refugees to pass on to Europe. In return, Greece sealed its border, trapping hundreds of refugees in a no-man's land.

"Over the past few days, Russia has done nothing in the face of an offensive that is rapidly destroying the capabilities of the Syrian army," Makki told the Post. "Russia's central interests in Syria have been secured, whether political or economic, so Russia has nothing to gain by entering into an awkward and bloody confrontation with Turkey, which is a member of NATO." Peter Weber

February 27, 2020

A senior Turkish official on Thursday said Turkey will no longer attempt to stop Syrian refugees heading to Europe.

"We have decided, effective immediately, not to stop Syrian refugees from reaching Europe by land or sea," the unidentified official told Reuters. "All refugees, including Syrians, are now welcome to cross into the European Union."

There are 3.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, and in 2016, the European Union agreed to send the country billions of Euros in aid with the understanding that Turkey would prevent the migrants from going on to Europe. Now, as fighting has intensified in Syria's Idlib province and hundreds of thousands of Syrians are displaced, the burden of housing refugees is "too heavy for any single country to carry," the official told Reuters.

In Idlib, Turkish-backed rebels have been trying to keep control of territory they seized from the Syrian government, supported by Russia. On Thursday, a Syrian government airstrike in Idlib killed at least 33 Turkish soldiers, a Turkish official said. In response, Turkish air and land support units are firing on "all known" Syrian government targets, according to Fahrettin Altun, Turkey's communications director. Catherine Garcia

February 27, 2020

A Syrian government airstrike Thursday in the country's Idlib province killed at least 29 Turkish soldiers, a Turkish official said.

Rahmi Dogan, the governor of Turkey's Hatay province, said additional troops were injured, while the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll higher, at 34. Local media reports that after the airstrike, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called an emergency meeting of his top security officials.

Syrian rebels backed by Turkey have control of some territory in Idlib, and the Syrian government, with the support of Russia, is trying to retake those areas. Turkey began sending more troops to Idlib earlier this month, in an attempt to slow down the Syrian army's advance across the province. The intense fighting has sparked Syria's latest humanitarian crisis, as hundreds of thousands of displaced people are now fleeing toward the Turkish border. Catherine Garcia

November 7, 2019

In an internal memo sent on Oct. 31, William Roebuck, the senior U.S. diplomat for northeast Syria, wrote that the Trump administration didn't do nearly enough to try to talk Turkey out of launching a military offensive against Kurds in Syria, a person familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

Roebuck, a former ambassador to Bahrain, sent the unclassified memo to James Jeffrey, the U.S. special envoy on Syria issues, plus officials in the White House, Pentagon, and State Department. During an Oct. 6 phone call, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told President Trump he did not want Kurds near the Syrian border. The Kurds controlled land in northeastern Syria they seized from the Islamic State, and that was too much for Erdogan, who considers them terrorists.

Following the call, Trump ordered U.S. troops near the Syrian border to move out, paving the way for Erdogan to launch a military assault. In his memo, the Journal reports, Roebuck wrote that threatening sanctions and sending more troops to the Syrian border might not have scared Erdogan, "but we won't know because we didn't try." He also accused Turkish-backed Arab fighters of carrying out "war crimes and ethnic cleansing."

A State Department spokeswoman told the Journal the government has concerns these fighters may have killed unarmed civilians and prisoners, and "we have raised them with the highest level of the Turkish government." Catherine Garcia

October 16, 2019

The U.S. military conducted an airstrike on Wednesday against the base in Syria it used to train and equip Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State.

Col. Myles Caggins, spokesman for the coalition to defeat ISIS, announced that two planes bombed the base, destroying, among other things, facilities used to store ammunition. The goal was to "reduce the facility's military usefulness," he said, and the airstrike was "successful."

On Tuesday, Turkish-backed militia members started approaching the base, and the U.S. military used Apache helicopters and F-15 fighter jets to keep them from getting closer, The Wall Street Journal reports. The Kurds set fire to their part of the base and left, Caggins said, and the U.S. military then pulled its forces out of the facility. The "precision airstrike" was carried out before the Turkish-backed fighters could gain control of the base. Catherine Garcia

October 15, 2019

Moving up from the south, Syrian government troops seized several towns in the northeastern part of the country on Monday, one day after reaching an agreement with the Kurdish-led militia that has held control of the area for several years.

The Kurds and Syria reached the deal after President Trump pulled back U.S. troops from the border, giving Turkey the opportunity to invade Syria and launch an assault on the Kurds. The Kurds and United States worked together to fight the Islamic State in Syria, and the Kurds took control over territory lost by ISIS. After the U.S. retreat, the Kurds turned to the Syrian government for added protection against Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan considers the Kurds terrorists.

Syrian government forces were able to take control of multiple towns from the Kurds, including Taqba, which has a hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates. Kurdish fighters spent Monday battling Turkish troops and allied Syrian militias in the border towns of Ras al Ain and Tal Abyad. The recent developments are viewed as victories for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who counts Russia and Iran as his allies.

Complicating matters is the fact that the U.S. has about 50 tactical nuclear weapons stored at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, 250 miles from the Syrian border. Two U.S. officials told The New York Times that over the weekend, State and Energy Department employees were reviewing plans for getting the weapons out of Turkey. They are "essentially Erdogan's hostages," the Times says, and moving them from Turkey would basically end the alliance between the United States and Turkey. Leaving them is just as problematic, as it puts the weapons and U.S. in a vulnerable position. Read more at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

October 13, 2019

President Trump made a grave mistake by pulling back troops in Syria last week, allowing Turkey to launch a military offensive against the Kurds, a retired four-star Marine general told CNN on Sunday.

"There is blood on Trump's hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies," Gen. John Allen said. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces worked with the United States for several years to fight the Islamic State, and controls the northeastern border area. Since the Turkish assault began last week, video footage has emerged purportedly showing Turkish-backed militia fighters shooting Kurdish prisoners. This, Allen said, is a "full-blown ethnic cleansing."

The Kurds oversee prisons holding thousands of ISIS fighters, their families, and supporters, and hundreds escaped during fighting over the weekend. Allen — the former commander of American forces in Afghanistan and former special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS during the Obama administration — said this chaos was "completely foreseeable" and "what happens when Trump follows his instincts and because of his alignment with autocrats."

Allen is also unmoved by Trump's approval of $50 million in aid to Syria. This gesture rings "hollow," he said, and there's no way to say if the money will go where it should. "Who's going to administer it and for whom?" Allen said. "Hundreds of thousands are fleeing and the relief agencies are on the move." Catherine Garcia

October 13, 2019

President Trump's decision to move U.S. troops from northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey to launch an assault against the Kurds, prompted the Kurds on Sunday to reach a protection deal with the Syrian government.

Under this agreement, Syrian government troops will be able to enter Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria for the first time in years, The New York Times reports. The United States and the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia, spent the last several years as allies, fighting against the Islamic State.

There are still ISIS sleeper cells in Syria, and many fear that the Turkish invasion could lead to the terror group's resurgence. Thousands of suspected ISIS supporters are being held in prisons guarded by Kurds, and hundreds escaped during fighting on Saturday and Sunday. Two U.S. officials told the Times the military recently tried to transfer five dozen "high value" ISIS detainees, but feeling betrayed, the Kurds said no.

The Syrian government, which counts Iran and Russia as its allies, said on Sunday it will fight the "Turkish aggression," while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his troops have control over about 70 square miles of territory in northern Syria. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday morning announced all American troops will withdraw from northern Syria, in order to stay out of the crossfire. Catherine Garcia

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