omersukrugoksu/iStock(ANKARA, Turkey) — Turkey’s military airstrikes inside Syria are the first step in its offensive into northern Syria, targeting the Syrian Kurds that helped the U.S. defeat the Islamic State.
But where is this fighting taking place and what comes next? What are U.S. military troops inside Syria doing in response to the Turkish operation? ABC News looks at what could result from Turkey’s military operation against the Syrian Kurds:
What has Turkey done so far?
Turkish military aircraft have carried out airstrikes inside a 130-mile stretch of the border region, according to Syrian Kurdish forces known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
“According to initial reports, there are casualties among civilian people,” the SDF tweeted on Wednesday.
The U.S. is aware of Turkish airstrikes and artillery fire on the towns of Tal Aryab and Ras al Ayn — the two towns that are 75 miles apart and mark the “security mechanism zone” that had been agreed to by the United States and Turkey over the summer. Depending on the geography, that zone is between 3 and 7 miles from the border with Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has publicly expressed a desire that the zone should be 18 miles deep inside Syria.
Erdogan has said Turkey wants a “safe zone” to protect against the Kurdish threat and to help resettle as many as two million Syrian refugees.
As part of that agreement, the SDF agreed to dismantle defensive fortifications along that stretch of the border. That action might now make it easier for Turkish forces to move deep into Syrian Kurdish areas.
A U.S. official told ABC News that there are close to 10,000 Turkish troops and pro-Turkish militia forces poised to enter the border area with Syria as part of what they are calling the “Peace Spring” operation.
As a result of the Turkish military operation, the SDF has ceased its counter-ISIS operations inside Syria, according to another U.S. official. But the American and coalition forces inside Syria have not stopped their anti-ISIS operations.
Where are U.S. troops and what will they do?
There are still 1,000 U.S. military troops inside northeastern Syria at various locations — there have been no orders given to them to leave Syria.
The only U.S. military forces that have been repositioned were the dozens of troops who had been stationed at two observation posts at Tal Aryab and Ras al Ayn, as part of the security mechanism agreement.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recommended the relocation of those troops right after President Donald Trump’s phone call on Sunday with Erdogan that indicated Turkey was moving forward with a military operation.
According to two U.S. officials, there is no military coordination taking place with Turkey. The U.S. will defend its ground troops, if attacked, but there is no intent to shoot down Turkish military aircraft because that would presume Turkey is attacking U.S. targets.
It’s unclear how deep into Syria the Turks are planning to go, but a U.S. official said there are a variety of plans for a possible, full U.S. military withdrawal from northeast Syria, should that become necessary.
According to a third U.S. official, there is active planning between the U.S., the coalition and Iraqi partners for how to respond to the Turkish military operation inside Syria, should it impact Iraq’s security.
They are actively monitoring refugee camps and ISIS prisons inside of Syria, should any become insecure. Iraqi border guard forces are also on alert, but Iraqi security forces are not readying for combat, said the official.
What comes next?
It is unclear how much the SDF’s fighters will be able to hold back a Turkish incursion. The SDF consists of 60,000 Syrian Kurd and Arab fighters who were able to defeat ISIS with the help of coalition airstrikes and U.S. military equipment.
But they will now be facing a Turkish military that — at 640,000 — is NATO’s second-largest conventional force, equipped with hundreds of pieces of modern artillery, tanks and aircraft.
Earlier this week, Gen. Mazloum Ebdi, the SDF’s commanding general, told ABC News that he expected Turkey to launch a large-scale operation.
But he also expected that it would be a long, drawn-out battle because he expected all of his fighters to offer a stiff resistance to the Turkish incursion. And that would include the Kurdish guards working at the prisons that are holding the more than 12,000 ISIS fighters who were captured on the battlefield.
They “are going to head to the border area to defend their families” against a potential Turkish assault, Ebdi told ABC News.
“This lack in security, of course, is going to jeopardize the calm in the prisons,” he said.
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