A ragtag ‘army’ of Syrian rebels backed by Turkey advanced on key border towns yesterday as they continued their push to crush the Kurdish forces who helped defeat Islamic State.
Brandishing their AK-47 and M16 rifles in the air, the self-styled Syrian National Army (SNA) – a mishmash of troops from various Syrian opposition groups – paraded victoriously through the streets of Ras al-Ayn.
Fierce battles, now in their eighth day, forced hundreds of thousands of Kurdish civilians to flee the town and others on the front line. Women and children were put aboard lorries in Kobane to take them to safety away from the fighting.
Fierce battles, now in their eighth day, forced hundreds of thousands of Kurdish civilians to flee the town and others on the front line. Women and children were put aboard lorries (pictured) in Kobane to take them to safety away from the fighting
Brandishing their AK-47 and M16 rifles in the air, the self-styled Syrian National Army (SNA) – a mishmash of troops from various Syrian opposition groups – paraded victoriously through the streets of Ras al-Ayn
Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims the military action is to remove the Kurdish-led forces – whom he considers to be terrorists – from the border area and create a ‘safe zone’ so up to two million Syrian refugees can be returned.
The move came after Donald Trump announced the US was withdrawing its troops from the area, leaving the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – its main ally in the battle on IS – without American military support.
It has also led to fears of a resurgence in IS activities.
Rather than deploying its own forces, Turkey has sent in the rebel army and supported them with airstrikes and artillery.
A US official said yesterday that human rights violations had been carried out by the rebels, who have vowed to kill ‘pigs’ and ‘infidels’, and paraded their Kurdish captives in front of cameras before executing them.
Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims the military action is to remove the Kurdish-led forces – whom he considers to be terrorists – from the border area and create a ‘safe zone’ so up to two million Syrian refugees can be returned
He said: ‘They took a relatively peaceful situation and turned it into this absolute mess.
‘They could have used Turkish, regular troops, instead they decided to use these thugs, bandits and pirates that should be wiped off the face of the Earth.’
Heavy fighting continued across northern Syria yesterday as Mr Erdogan – a key Nato ally – coldly rejected rising pressure from the West for a ceasefire.
He said Turkey’s operation would end when Ankara completes its goal to establish the so-called ‘safe zone’ from the Mediterranean to the Iraq border.
The move by Turkey (pictured, a Turkish-backed fighter) came after Donald Trump announced the US was withdrawing its troops from the area, leaving the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – its main ally in the battle on IS – without American military support
He told a weekly meeting of his ruling AK Party: ‘We informed the US, EU and Russia before the operation began that… we want this terrorist organisation to be removed from our borders.
‘When the zone from Manbij to Iraq is cleared, this operation will be over. But until that point, no power can stop us.’ President Erdogan’s claims to have captured the town of Ras al-Ayn were cast into doubt yesterday after Kurdish forces mounted a desperate fightback using tunnels, berms and trenches.
Rebels hold British IS ‘matchmaker’
A notorious IS recruiter who tried to lure girls to Syria is being held in a rebel ‘safe house’ after escaping from a detention camp.
Tooba Gondal, known as the ‘matchmaker’, is with ex-Irish soldier Lisa Smith in a village near the border town of Tel Abyad.
They were among 950 IS wives and children who escaped Ain Issa camp on Sunday. They were picked up by rebel fighters who are likely to hand them over to Turkey. From there they could be sent back to the UK and Ireland.
Miss Gondal’s family told the Telegraph they last heard from her on Tuesday and she had told them she was safe with her two young children and being well fed somewhere near the border.
Speaking at his home in Ilford, east London, her father Mohamed said: ‘We spoke to her yesterday over text message. She let us know she was out of the camp and in a safe place.’
Miss Gondal, 25, groomed dozens of jihadi brides including east London schoolgirl Shamima Begum. Fellow recruiter Miss Smith, 37, who quit the Irish Defence Force in 2011 after converting to Islam, is with her two-year-old daughter.
And, as Russia works to become the new power broker in the region following the US withdrawal, it was reported that Syrian and Russian forces had entered Kobane following a deal struck between the Kurds and the Syrian government in the wake of Turkey’s incursion.
Five buses carrying troops waving flags in celebration were seen driving through the town.
Hundreds of civilians are feared to have been killed in the fighting and at least 160,000 have fled the area, according to the UN.
Russia says it is working to prevent a conflict between advancing Turkish and Syrian government forces. The Kurds have had to turn to the Syrian government and its Russian allies to prevent being overrun by the SNA.
The rebel army is made up of numerous factions opposed to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, some of which received Western funding and training in the past.
But Middle East expert Aymenn al-Tamimi, of Swansea University, said the US and UK had created issues by also supporting the Kurdish-led SDF.
‘It was pretty disastrous from the start. There was a problem empowering these guys at the same time. The problem being the two forces are opposed to each other’, he said.
nDONALD Trump last night defended his troop withdrawal, saying his soldiers were no longer in harm’s way and Russia should ‘handle’ IS. The US President said his decision was ‘strategically brilliant’ for America.
He also said the Kurds he abandoned were ‘much safer now’ and were ‘no angels’ anyway because of their association with terrorist groups in the past.
Additional reporting by Baderkhan Ahmad.