Donald Trump has suggested that Kurdish fighters are releasing imprisoned ISIS jihadists to bait the United States into remaining involved in northeastern Syria.
The President spoke out after more than 800 ISIS followers – largely wives and children of fighters – escaped from a prison camp near Ain Issa at the weekend after the Kurds said Turkish forces bombed the camp.
However, Trump hinted that the Kurds – America’s closest ally in the country until he ordered US forces to withdraw – were instead to blame.
He spoke out just hours after the Kurds signed a deal with the Russian-backed Syrian Army to defend them, and as Bashar al-Assad’s tanks and troops rolled up to the border to combat ‘Turkish aggression’.
Despite the new threat, Turkish President Erdogan vowed to continue his offensive ‘no matter what’, saying he would only stop ‘when ultimate victory is achieved’.
Syrian troops were pictured Monday around the city of Manbij as Erdogan said Turkish forces were ready to attack, and near Tel Abaid and Sari Kani where fighting between Turkey and the Kurds is already underway.
Turkey’s President Erdogan has said his troops are ready to attack Manbij even as Assad’s forces arrived in the area (pictured, a Syrian government tank, reportedly in Manbij) raising the prospect that the two sides will fight for the first time
A Syrian army tank (right) was shown rolling into Manbij on Monday, hours after Assad struck a deal with the Kurds to help defend them in return for territory
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev (right) are seen during the dinner in honour of the leaders of the 7th Summit of the Turkic Council tonight
Soldiers riding on top of a tank carry the Syrian national flag, a symbol of the government’s army, into Manbij province as they arrive in defence of the Kurds
Syrian government forces have begun moving into Kurdish territory to defend against a Turkish invasion of northern Syria after striking a deal with the former US allies. Assad’s troops were seen near Manbij on Monday as Erdogan said his forces were ready to attack. Syrian troops also arrived in Ain Issa and Sari Kani, where fighting is already underway
Donald Trump has suggested the the Kurds may be releasing ISIS prisoners deliberately to get the US back into the conflict in Syria, though the Kurds say President Erdogna’s men are deliberately bombing prison camps in order to free the jihadis
Trump also threatened to level big sanctions against Turkey over its attacks on the Kurds, despite giving President Erdogan permission to move into the region himself
President Trump spoke out after more than 800 ISIS terrorists – mainly wives and children of fighters – escaped from a prison camp at Ain Issa (pictured) at the weekend, after guards left to fight the oncoming Turkish army
In return for providing security, the Kurds have agreed to hand over control of the border towns of Manbij (pictured, Turkish tanks near the town) and Kobane, ending five years of autonomous rule
Turkish soldiers drive American-made M60 tanks in the town of Tukhar, north of Syria’s northern city of Manbij, as Turkey and its regional allies fight against Kurdish forces in the area
Turkey-backed Syrian fighters kneel to pray as they gather with Turkish troops in the village of Qirata, on the outskirts of Manbij, as they prepare for an assault on the city
Turkish tanks drive into the city of Qirata, near Manbij, as they prepare to join in an attack on the city
Turkish troops drive their US-made M60 tanks and armoured personnel carriers as they and Turkey-backed fighters drive through the village of Qirata on the outskirts of the northern city of Manbij
The battle would mark a significant shift in the regional balance of power because Assad is backed by Russia and Iran, which until now had been firm allies of Turkey over Syria.
It would also mark the first time that Kurdish forces have fought alongside the Russian-backed Syrian government, after previously allying with America until Donald Trump suddenly withdrew US forces from the region.
President Trump tweeted Monday: ‘Kurds may be releasing some to get us involved. Easily recaptured by Turkey or European Nations from where many came, but they should move quickly.’
Turkish state media has repeatedly denied Kurdish allegations that its planes and artillery have been bombing ISIS prison camps in order to help fighters escape, and has pointed the finger of blame at the Kurds instead.
Asked about the possibility of a direct confrontation between Russian and Turkish forces, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin ‘wouldn’t even like to think about that scenario’.
Trump has face international outcry and fierce domestic opposition to his move, even from within the Republican party, for handing control of a volatile and resource-rich region over to America’s enemies.
Kurdish forces do a deal with Assad
Kurdish forces have agreed to allow Bashar al-Assad’s troops to occupy their territory in exchange for helping to repel an invasion by Turkey that was sparked when Donald Trump suddenly withdrew US troops.
Direct conflict between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian Arab Army has been rare during the country’s seven-year civil war, but until now they have found themselves on opposite sides of the fight against ISIS as the Kurds were backed by the US and Assad was supported by Russia.
However, after Trump dropped American support for the Kurds and handed over control of regional security to Turkey – which considers Kurdish militias to be terrorists – they have been forced to seek support elsewhere.
As part of the deal, brokered by Russia, the SDF agreed to hand over control of the border towns of Manbij and Kobane which it has ruled over for the last seven years in exchange for help battling Erdogan’s troops.
On Monday Syrian government forces were pictured at Manbij as Turkey threatened to assault the city, and at Tel Abaid and Sari Kani, where fighting is already underway.
The deal means one of America’s closest allies in the region is now fighting with assistance from Russia, and marks a big win for Assad in his attempts to regain complete control of Syria.
The deal also pits Russia and Iran, which back Assad, against Turkey, despite the three countries spending months putting on a united front in the region.
But according to six sources close to the President, he and some of his senior advisers thought Erdogan was bluffing over plans to attack northern Syria and believed he wouldn’t go through with it, Axios reported.
Speaking about the attack on Manbij, Erdogan said Turkey’s aim will be to return the city to Arab populations whom he said where its rightful owners.
Speaking ahead of a visit to Azerbaijan, Erdogan said Turkey would implement its plans for Manbij and settle Arabs there, after an agreement with Washington last year for YPG fighters to leave the town fell through.
‘Our agreement with the United States was for the terrorist organisations to clear Manbij in 90 days,’ he said, referring to the YPG.
‘However, a year has passed and Manbij has not been cleared,’ Erdogan told reporters at the airport in Istanbul.
‘We, as Turkey, will not go into Manbij when it’s emptied. The real owners of that area, the Arabs, and the tribes who are the true owners of that will go there. Our approach on this is for them to be settled there and to provide their security,’ he added.
Asked about the deal struck between the Kurdish forces and Damascus, Erdogan said that he did not expect any problems to emerge in the town of Kobane and added that Russian President Vladimir Putin had a ‘positive approach.’
‘There are many rumours at the moment. However, especially through the embassy and with the positive approach of Russia in Kobani, it appears there won’t be any issues,’ he said, without elaborating.
America ordered its final 1,000 troops to withdraw from Syria ‘as quickly and safely as possible’ on Sunday in the face of the Turkish advance, amid fears they will be accidentally targeted by Turkish artillery and airstrikes.
A tweet by SANA, the Syrian army’s news agency, on Monday said forces had entered the town of Tall Tamr and were ready ‘to confront Turkish aggression’.
The Kurdish administration said in a statement on its Facebook page: ‘In order to prevent and confront this aggression, an agreement has been reached with the Syrian government… so that the Syrian army can deploy along the Syrian-Turkish border to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).’
In their statement the Kurds said that the agreement struck with the Damascus government ‘paves the way to liberate the rest of the Syrian cities occupied by the Turkish army such as Afrin’, a majority Kurdish enclave in the northwest.
Turkey’s attacks have been heavily condemned by European leaders, with France – which has special forces stationed in Syria among the most vociferous critics.
On Monday French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced he will not to attend Monday’s match between the French and Turkish football teams in Paris.
Le Drian had previously planned to be at the game, said the minister’s department.
Turkish-backed Syrian rebels haul down a Kurdish flag that had been flying over a town on the outskirts of Tel Abaid after seizing control of the border city
Erdogan, his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Jeenbekov attend the dinner tonight
Rebels from the Syrian National Army (also known as the Free Syrian Amry), a Turkish-backed rebel group, raise their flag above a town on the outskirts of Tel Abaid
Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters react as they hold their weapons at the border town of Tel Abaid, Syria
Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters raise the Syrian opposition flag at the border town of Tel Abaid
Syrian government troops arrive in Ain Issa, where the ISIS prison break took place, on Monday as they reinforce Kurdish troops fighting in nearby Tel Abaid
Soldiers loyal to Bashar al-Assad roll into Ain Issa, in northern Syria, close to the border town of Tel Abaid where heavy fighting has taken place between Turkey and the Kurds
Locals welcoming Syrian government forces as they enter the northern town of Ain Issa after they were allowed to enter the territory as part of a deal with the Kurds
Members of Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army, a militant group active in parts of northwest Syria, heading toward Syrian town of Tal Abiad as they continue their assault against the Kurds
Turkish-backed Syrian fighters speak with people after withdrawing from the front line back into Turkish territory
Turkish military vehicles carrying armoured personal carriers head toward the Syrian town of Tal Abaid near the border
Turkey moved its forces into northern Syria last week after Donald Trump agreed to withdraw US troops and hand over control of regional security to Ankara
French officials are planning to step up security ahead of this evening’s European Championship game in the Stade de France between the two countries, following the condemnation by France and the European Union of the Turkish offensive.
Meanwhile Jens Stoltenberg, chief of NATO which Turkey is a member of, also criticised the offensive – saying it risks creating further instability in the region.
‘We see a very unstable situation in Syria,’ he said on a visit to London on Monday. ‘We see human suffering… I expressed deep concerns when I was in Istanbul.’
In the past five days, Turkish troops and their allies have pushed into northern towns and villages, clashing with the Kurdish fighters over a stretch of 200 125 miles.
The offensive has displaced at least 130,000 people.
Abandoned in the middle of the battlefield, the Kurds turned to Assad and Russia for protection and announced Sunday night that Syrian government troops would be deployed in Kurdish-controlled towns and villages along the border with Turkey to help repel Turkish advances.
‘We are going back to our normal positions that are at the border,’ said a Syrian officer, as embattled Kurdish authorities invited the government to retake towns and villages in the north.
Syrian troops arrived Monday in the northern province of Raqqa aboard buses and pickup trucks with mounted machine guns.
Bashar al-Assad has deployed Syrian government troops (pictured) to the town of Tal Tamr, around 20 miles from Sari Kani (also known as Ras al-Ain) where heavy fighting occurred between Turkey and Kurdish forces at the weekend
Syrian regime forces are pictured as they patrol a street on the western entrance of the town of Tal Tamr after being sent there to ‘combat Turkish aggression’
Syrian regime forces moved towards the Turkish border Monday after Damascus reached a deal with beleaguered Kurdish forces following a US withdrawal announcement
An image released by the Syrian Arab Army shows its troops in Tal Tamr on Monday – territory which was formerly occupied by Kurdish forces
Turkish-backed Syrian fighters take part in a battle in Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain, also known as Sari Kani
A Turkish-backed Syrian fighter grimaces as he fires his rifle on enemy positions, in Syria’s northeastern town of Sari Kani, where Syrian government troops were pictured on Monday
A Turkish-backed Syrian fighter fires his rifle through a hole in a wall as a fellow fighter looks on, in Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain
Turkish-backed Syrian fighters take part in a battle in Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain
Smoke is seen rising from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, from the Turkish side of the border
Ras al-Ain, also known as Sari Kani, has seen some of the heaviest fighting of Turkey’s invasion so far, as it enters its sixth day
Troops moved into the towns of Tal Tamr, 12 miles from the Turkish border, Ein Issa and Tabqa, known for its dam on the Euphrates River and a nearby air base of the same name.
The government deployment sets up a potential clash between Turkey and Syria and raises the specter of a resurgent Islamic State group as the U.S. relinquishes any remaining influence in northern Syria to Assad and his chief backer, Russia.
Turkey has pressed on with its invasion of northern Syria, warning its NATO allies in Europe and the United States not to stand in its way.
The European Union unanimously condemned Turkey’s military move and asked all 28 of its member states to stop selling arms to Ankara, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told The Associated Press.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russian and Turkish officials have remained in close contact.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled his military was ready to launch an assault on the Kurdish-held region of Manbij, on the western flank of the Euphrates.
Medics carry people wounded in Turkish air strikes into a hospital in Tal Tamr, which is now under the protection of Syrian Arab Army troops
Tal Tamr, which is 20 miles from the border town of Sari Kani (also known as Ras al-Ain), has seen some of the fiercest fighting of the campaign so far
Medics carry wounded civilians injured in an alleged Turkish airstrike at a hospital in Tal Tamr, northeastern of Syria
Images of the attack showed the airstrike shatter an otherwise quiet street and footage shows bodies and severed limbs strewn in the street
Casualties pour into Syrian hospitals as the Turkish border offensive continues with as many as 74 injured in today’s convoy strike
The flashpoint area housed U.S. troops who patrolled the region since 2017 to deter a confrontation between Turkey and Kurdish fighters.
A U.S. official said Monday troops were still the town, preparing to leave.
‘We are about to implement our decision on Manbij,’ Erdogan told reporters, adding that Turkey aimed to return the city to Arab populations that he said were its rightful owners.
Turkish forces were already positioned at the city’s edge, according to CNN-Turk. Syrian troops already have a presence south of Manbij.
Erdogan has already said Turkey will not negotiate with the Syrian Kurdish fighters, saying they have links to a long-running Kurdish insurgency within its own borders.
Heavy fighting there on Sunday reached a Kurdish-run camp for displaced persons in Ein Issa. The camp is home to about 12,000 people, including around 950 wives and children of IS fighters, and hundreds are believed to have escaped amid the chaos.
Syria’s state-run news agency SANA said government forces planned to ‘confront the Turkish aggression,’ without giving further details.
Photos posted by SANA showed several vehicles and a small number of troops in Tal Tamr, a predominantly Assyrian Christian town that was once held by IS before it was retaken by Kurdish-led forces.
Many Syrian Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Syria’s prewar population of 23 million, left for Europe in the past 20 years, with the flight gathering speed since the conflict began in March 2011.
Journalists, including foreigners, were accompanying the convoy. A Kurdish news agency, Hawar, said one of its reporters was killed
In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border with Syria, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, smoke billows from fires on targets in Ras al-Ayn
Images shared by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights appear to picture people running away from the Ain Issa
The Observatory said journalists, including foreigners, were accompanying the convoy. A Kurdish news agency, Hawar, said one of its reporters was killed
Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, as seen from the Turkish border town of Akcakale today, as military action continues