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Turkish strikes in Syria raise concerns in Twin Cities

Updated: October 09, 2019 05:19 PM

Turkey launched airstrikes and fired artillery aimed at crushing Kurdish fighters in northern Syria on Wednesday after U.S. troops pulled back from the area, paving the way for an assault on forces that have long been allied with the United States.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the campaign, which followed an abrupt decision Sunday by U.S. President Donald Trump that American troops would step aside to allow for the operation.

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Trump's move drew bipartisan opposition at home and represented a shift in U.S. policy that essentially abandoned the Syrian Kurdish fighters who have been America's only allies in Syria fighting the Islamic State group. After Erdogan announced the offensive, Trump called the operation "a bad idea."

Turkey begins offensive aimed at Kurdish fighters in Syria

The Minnetonka-based relief group CEO spoke with a team member in the region, saying ever since President Trump made the announcement, they've been bracing for Turkey's response.

"Kind of a mixed feeling, knowing the Kurds rely on friendship with the U.S., or have relied on friendship for such a long period of time," said Mustafa Omar, CEO of Shelter For Life International on news of Turkey's military action.

The humanitarian relief group has helped the Kurdish people since 1996.

Omar's group has worked in the region in northern Syria on the Turkish border just last year. It's a region he said America is well-received due to their help over the years.

"They have a name for President Bush. They call him, 'father of freedom,'" said Omar. "The affection goes beyond politics, beyond parties."

"What I anticipate is this major refugee crisis, that could require substantial humanitarian intervention both by the American public and international organizations," Omar said.

Trump defends Syria move, doesn't want US troops in Mideast

A professor at the University of Minnesota voiced his concerns from a different perspective.

"The main fear is not that it will create a humanitarian crisis, but that it will create a security vacuum in which ISIS can re-emerge as an effective force," said Ragui Assaad, a professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. "If the Kurds have to divert their attention to fighting Turkish forces, they will no longer be able to maintain the detention camps for former ISIS fighters and their families, further risking that ISIS will regroup."  

At least one member of the Kurdish-led force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces was killed in the Turkish bombardment, Kurdish activists and a Syria war monitor said.

A U.S. defense official and a Kurdish official in Syria said the SDF has suspended operations against IS militants because of the Turkish operation. The officials who confirmed the suspension spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to provide details on the situation.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Eric Chaloux

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