U.N. Security Council To Hold Emergency Meeting On Turkish Attack In Syria

Jan 22, 2018
Originally published on January 22, 2018 7:42 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The U.N. Security Council is holding another emergency meeting today about the situation in Syria. The latest cause of concern is open warfare between two American allies. Over the weekend, Turkey sent fighter jets and ground troops into Syria to target Kurdish fighters. It did this to send a message that they are not willing to accept Kurds in the U.S.-led coalition that's battling ISIS. And there are reports of casualties on both sides. NPR's Peter Kenyon is with us from Istanbul.

And Peter, what drove Turkey to act here?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, Turkey's complained for quite some time about American support for these YPG Kurdish fighters, as they're known. They're part of a key fighting group that's called the Syrian Defense Forces. They've been battling ISIS in Syria. The Pentagon armed and trained these Kurdish fighters because they're good. They get results. But Turkey sees them as aligned with its own Kurdish militants in southeast Turkey. And Ankara warned it wouldn't allow this to continue, this Kurdish force on the other side of the border, and now it's acting on that.

GREENE: OK. And there seems to be a lot of concern here, beginning with the Security Council meeting - this emergency meeting - later today. So what exactly is the fear?

KENYON: Well, France called for the meeting because this operation has it alarmed, along with a number of other countries, including some that don't agree on much. Both Egypt and Iran, for instance, condemned this incursion. Now, Russia takes a slightly different approach. It's Syria's biggest ally, of course. They blame the U.S. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Washington infuriated Turkey with its unilateral actions in Syria. As for the Security Council, it's not clear what it wants to do or what it has the votes to do. But it's pretty clear that this is not a good sign for this coalition, which is supposed to be fighting Islamic State forces.

GREENE: Well, and the U.S. is at the center of all of this because they're trying to work with two different sides here who don't often get along. So how is the Trump administration responding to what's happening?

KENYON: Well, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Turkey did alert Washington before launching this attack. He went on to say we understand Turkey's facing armed Kurdish militants on its own soil. He thinks Ankara does have legitimate security concerns. And the State Department, which had urged Turkey not to do this, yesterday called on Ankara to, well, keep it as short as possible and avoid civilian casualties. So it sounds like concern is being voiced but not outright condemnation.

GREENE: Have casualties been avoided so far because it sounds like there have already been some?

KENYON: There have. Hard to get absolutely reliable numbers, of course, but there are unconfirmed reports from inside Syria of a number of casualties - not a huge number. That could change. NPR reached a spokesman for the Syrian defense forces - that's a group that includes the Kurdish fighters - and he said the invaders hadn't managed to break their front lines. But he said the Turkish airstrikes are a big challenge.

And he made an interesting comment. He said the U.S. response hasn't been what we'd hoped for. There's a kind of a history of Kurds in the region feeling betrayed by the U.S. and others, so this comment might have some echoes of that. Now over on the Turkish side, one Syrian national was reported killed in Reyhanli - that's a border town - when rockets came across from Syria. Scores more people were wounded, and the military says it destroyed those launching sites.

GREENE: And so Peter, just briefly, I mean, is the U.S. trying to send a message to Turkey to keep this brief? How - what indications are you getting about how long this operation could last?

KENYON: Well, the president says it'll be very quick. But how they do that and accomplish their goals remains to be seen. They want a 19-mile safe zone. After Afrin, they want to go on to Manbij. If they do all of that, that's going to take some time.

GREENE: NPR's Peter Kenyon reporting for us in Istanbul this morning.

Thanks, Peter. We appreciate it.

KENYON: Thanks, David.

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