Turkey, Kurds rally forces ahead of Turkish assault

Kurdish administration calls up civilians to defend northeastern Syria from imminent assault, as Ankara mobilises Syrian proxies and says it will ‘shortly’ begin offensive.

QAMISHLI - The Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria called up civilians on Wednesday to defend the region against a feared Turkish assault, believed to be imminent.

"We announce three days of general mobilisation in northern and eastern Syria," it said in a statement, urging all civilians to "head to the border with Turkey... to resist during this delicate historical moment".

It also called on Kurds in Syria and abroad to protest against Ankara's planned offensive.

Ankara said on Tuesday it would "shortly" begin an offensive into northern Syria. It sent more armoured vehicles to the border and mobilised thousands of its Syrian proxy fighters

The Syrian fighters, most of them from northwestern areas controlled by Turkey since previous offensives in 2016 and 2018, were gathered in a former refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Akcakale.

They belong to factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a coalition of groups armed and financed by Ankara.

At least 18,000 fighters are due to participate in the first stage of the Turkish offensive, according to Abdelrahman Ghazi Dadeh, spokesman for Anwar al-Haq, a small faction within the FSA.

He said 8,000 would target the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad and 10,000 the town of Ras al-Ain, Dadeh told journalists in Akcakale.

An undetermined number of additional fighters were also expected to be mobilised for an assault on Kobane.

All three towns in northeastern Syria are controlled by the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

Turkey's communications director, Fahrettin Altun, wrote in the Washington Post that Kurdish forces can either "defect" or Turkey will "have no choice but to stop them from disrupting our counter-Islamic State efforts".

Trump abandons US allies

US President Donald Trump has blown hot and cold since a surprise announcement on Sunday that Washington was pulling back 50 to 100 "special operators" from Syria's border with Turkey.

After appearing to give a green light to the Turkish invasion, he later threatened to "obliterate" Turkey's economy if it went too far. He also insisted the United States had not abandoned its Kurdish allies by pulling forces out of the area.

Trump has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum for "abandoning the Kurds", who say they lost some 11,000 fighters in the US-backed campaign against the Islamic State group (IS) in Syria which they spearheaded.

In March, they declared the territorial defeat of IS after overrunning the jihadists' last redoubt in the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria.

On Wednesday, the Kurdish administration said it would hold its US ally and the whole international community responsible for any "humanitarian catastrophe" that unfolds in the territory under its control.

US NATO partner Ankara strongly opposed Washington's support for Kurdish forces in Syria, specifically for the YPG, citing the group's alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has fought a deadly insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

The YPG has been a key ally for the United States in fighting IS in Syria, as part of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) of which the YPG forms the main fighting unit. Nevertheless, the White House this week announced it was withdrawing its special forces from the area that had been effectively preventing the Turkish offensive.

Turkey has already carried out two cross-border offensives into Syria, including one in 2018 that saw it and allied Syria rebels overrun the majority-Kurdish Afrin enclave in the northwest.

According to Dadeh, FSA officers accompanied by Turkish soldiers carried out reconnaissance along the border on Wednesday in preparation for the assault.

"There is a 99 percent chance that the offensive will be launched tonight," he said.

Turkey's rebel allies said they would have no mercy on Syrian Kurdish fighters, whom they said had left them no choice but a battle.

"Strike them with an iron fist, make them taste the hell of your fires," a statement from the National Army, the main Turkey-backed rebel force told its fighters. It also called for sparing civilians and those who defected to the rebels.