Thousands flee, hundreds reported dead in Turkish attack on U.S.-allied Kurds in Syria

A child is seen in a vehicle with belongings as they flee, in Tel Abyad, Syria October 9, 2019. Picture taken October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

Turkey pounded Kurdish militia in northeast Syria for a second day on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee and killing at least dozens of people in a cross-border assault on U.S. allies that has turned the Washington establishment against President Donald Trump.

The offensive against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by Kurdish YPG militia, which began days after Trump pulled U.S. troops out of the way and following a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, opens one of the biggest new fronts in years in an eight-year-old civil war that has drawn in global powers.

“We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!” Trump said in a Twitter post on Thursday.

“I hope we can mediate,” Trump said when asked about the options by reporters at the White House.

Without elaborating, Trump said the United States was “going to possibly do something very, very tough with respect to sanctions and other financial things” against Turkey.

The SDF have been the main allies of U.S. forces on the ground in the battle against Islamic State since 2014. They have been holding thousands of captured IS fighters in prisons and tens of thousands of their relatives in detention.

SDF forces were still in control of all prisons with Islamic State captives, a senior U.S. State Department official said in a briefing with reporters on Thursday.

The United States has received a high-level commitment from Turkey on taking responsibility for Islamic State captives but has not yet had detailed discussions, the official said.

U.S. lawmakers and media have said Trump essentially gave Erdogan the green light for Turkey’s military to go into northeast Syria but the official disputed that. “We gave them a very clear red light, I’ve been involved in those red lights and I know the President did that on Sunday,” the official said.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry said 228 militants had been killed so far in the offensive. Kurds said they were resisting the assault. At least 23 fighters with the SDF and six fighters with a Turkish-backed Syrian rebel group had been killed, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war.