Turkey troops ‘have begun crossing into Syria’

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Turkish soldiers prepare an armoured vehicle as Turkish armed forces drive towards the border with Syria near Akcakale in Sanliurfa province on Tuesday.

Ankara – Turkish troops have begun crossing into northeastern Syria to force back Kurdish militants away from its border, a Turkish official told Bloomberg on Wednesday, days after the US said it wouldn’t stand in the way.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, gave no further details.

In a dramatic reversal of US policy, Donald Trump told Erdogan in a phone call on Sunday that dozens of American troops who’d been working closely with Kurdish-led forces in the fight against Daesh would pull back, effectively clearing the way for a Turkish advance.

The White House statement appeared to surprise allies at home and abroad. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said they would fight to defend their “own people”, potentially relegating the battle against Daesh.

A number of Trump allies, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, said the move was “a shot in the arm for the bad guys”. Analysts said a US pullback could ultimately play into the hands of Russia, whose military intervention helped turn the tide of the Syrian civil war in favour of President Bashar Al Assad.

Syria’s Kurdish militant YPG group has been a US partner in the fight against Daesh in Syria and has tens of thousands of captured militants and their families in its custody in camps and detention centres in northeastern Syria. The US has said Turkey would be responsible for those detainees but it was not clear whether there was a mechanism in place to ensure they would not escape and regroup.

Turkey sees the YPG as a threat due to its link to the separatist PKK, another Kurdish group the Turkish government been battling for decades. It’s considered a terrorist organisation by the US and the European Union.