Turkish warplanes pummeled Kurdish-held towns as Turkish ground troops streamed across the Syria-Turkey border on Oct. 9, 2019.
The air raids, artillery bombardment and other attacks killed at least 23 Kurdish fighters from the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as well as nine civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Turkish planes have been able to attack without facing serious opposition. Kurdish forces for decades have struggled to acquire a meaningful air-defense capability.
As bombs rained down, Kurdish officials begged the United States to enforce a no-fly zone over the border region.
“We ask for a no-fly zone over our area,” Sinam Mohamad, the U.S. co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the Syrian Democratic Forces, told reporters. “At least we will not have civilian casualties then.”
But the administration of U.S. president Donald Trump has declined to protect the SDF, whose thousands of fighters are the backbone of the coalition ground force battling Islamic State militants in Syria. Many of the Kurdish SDF fighters also belong to the YPG militia group, which Turkey considers to be a terrorist organization.
Trump rebuffed calls from within his own political party to back the Kurds against Turkish attacks. “They didn’t help us with Normandy,” Trump said of the Kurds, referring to the 1944 invasion of France by U.S. and allied forces.
Without American air cover, the Kurds in northern Syria are all but defenseless against Turkish warplanes and helicopters. In December 2016 the SDF formally asked the United States for shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles such as the U.S.-made Stinger.
There is no evidence the United States honored the request. Washington did, however, supply the SDF with vehicles, machine guns and anti-tank rockets. The anti-weapons, in particular, could pose a major problem for Turkish ground troops.