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Turkey carries out dozens of strikes in northern Syria as thousands flee

Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

AMMAN, Jordan -- Turkey said Thursday that it had carried out military strikes on dozens of targets in Syria during two days of an offensive against Kurdish fighters, a move that sent tens of thousands of people fleeing in fear.

Dozens of Kurdish civilians were killed or wounded by a heavy barrage of artillery and airstrikes since the incursion began Wednesday, said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, a group of militias that for years has received U.S. backing in the fight against Islamic State militants.

Turkey has pounded an area of Syria controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces. The Kurds retaliated with fighting in several Turkish border towns, injuring 16 people, Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who a day earlier announced the start of the incursion, said in a televised speech Thursday that 109 "terrorists have been neutralized."

The United States, meanwhile, faced accusations of betraying an ally because the operation came after President Donald Trump unexpectedly said early this week that U.S. troops would be withdrawn, in effect allowing Turkey, an ally, to attack the Kurds in Syria, also allies. Trump later said in a statement that the U.S. did not endorse the attack, calling it a "bad idea."

International Rescue Committee, an aid group, warned Thursday that 64,000 people had been displaced and that an additional 236,000 could join them if the offensive continues.

 

Signs of that displacement could be seen on the road leading to the Semalka border crossing with Iraq, with families crowding in cars and atop trucks laden with furniture.

The Turkish Defense Ministry said Thursday that it had so far carried out strikes on 181 targets in Syria. It also launched a ground offensive, deploying Turkish commandos and Syrian rebel factions.

By the evening, those factions, part of a loose grouping of opposition fighters who have styled themselves as the Syrian National Army, announced they had seized control of a number of villages around Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, both key border towns that Turkey aims to commandeer in the first phase of its operations.

"We're aiming to reach the Syrian-Iraqi border," said Maj. Yusef Hammoud, spokesman for the Syrian National Army, in a phone interview Thursday.

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