ISTANBUL -- Turkish armed forces launched a long-threatened military offensive in northern Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed on Wednesday.
Erdogan called it "Operation Peace Spring" and said it was targeting Islamic State and the Syrian-Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers to be linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) waging an insurgency within the country.
"Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area," he said on Twitter.
This is Turkey's third offensive in three years targeting Syrian-Kurdish militias, after Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016 and Operation Olive Branch in 2018.
"#OperationPeaceSpring will neutralize terror threats against Turkey and lead to the establishment of a safe zone, facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their homes," Erdogan said.
"We will preserve Syria's territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists," he added.
Syrian Kurdish forces, who had declared a three-day state of heightened alert and issued a call for mobilization, confirmed that airstrikes had begun.
"Turkish warplanes have started to carry out airstrikes on civilian areas. There is a huge panic among people of the region," tweeted Mustafa Bali, spokesman of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Turkish state broadcaster TRT said the army hit five posts in Ras al-Ain, in north-eastern Syria and near the border with Turkey.
TRT also showed footage of Turkish F16 jets taking off from a military base in Diyarbakir, in south-eastern Turkey, which it said are on the way to join the air campaign.
On Monday, U.S. troops started pulling back from areas in north-eastern Syria along Turkey's border, paving the way for a Turkish incursion, after an abrupt policy shift by US President Donald Trump.
"Moved our 50 soldiers out. Turkey MUST take over captured ISIS fighters that Europe refused to have returned. The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!," Trump tweeted Wednesday before the incursion started.
The SDF, which has been the main partner allied with the US in defeating Islamic State, dominates a swathe of territory in north-eastern Syria.
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