Turkey has launched a planned military offensive into northeastern Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Wednesday, just days after the Trump administration announced it was pulling US troops back from the border area.
"Our aim is to destroy the terror corridor which is trying to be established on our southern border and to bring peace and peace to the region," Erdogan tweeted.
He added that Turkey "will preserve Syria's territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists."
The offensive comes days after US President Donald Trump provoked a storm of criticism, including from his own party, by announcing the pullback of US military forces from the region.
Trump's decision in effect gave Turkey a green light to attack US-backed Kurdish forces, though Trump threatened to punish Turkey economically if it does "anything outside of what we think is humane."
Ankara regards the Kurdish People's Protection Units, also known as the YPG, as a terrorist group affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought the Turkish state for more than three decades. But the US backs the YPG and credits the Kurds for helping defeat ISIS in Syria.
In a tweet early Wednesday, the Turkish government communications director, Fahrettin Altun, said the YPG had two options: "They can defect or we will have stop them from disrupting our counter-ISIS efforts."
Ahead of the offensive Wednesday, Syria condemned Turkey's "aggressive behavior" and "hostile intentions," according to Syrian state news agency SANA.
"The aggressive behavior of the Erdogan regime clearly shows the Turkish expansionist ambitions in the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic and cannot be justified under any pretext," a source at the Foreign Ministry said, SANA reported.
A source at the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the Syrian government holds some Kurds responsible for what is happening "as a result of their dependence on the American project."
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) called on on the international community Tuesday to help avoid a possible humanitarian disaster.
In series of tweets from the verified Twitter account of the SDF, the General Command said the border areas of northeast Syria "are on the edge of a possible humanitarian catastrophe."
It went on to call on the international community and those countries fighting against ISIS "to carry out their responsibilities" to avoid a "possible impending humanitarian disaster."
The SDF, which has vowed to defend itself against any perceived Turkish incursion, called on the US-led coalition and the international community to implement a no-fly zone over northern Syria similar to the one implemented in Iraq.