Turkish troops started crossing into Syria early Wednesday, in what appears to be the beginning of a threatened invasion of an area controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, The Associated Press reports. The SDF, the main U.S. ally in the regional fight against the Islamic State, guards about 11,000 ISIS prisoners in more than 20 makeshift prison camps, and U.S. officials told The Washington Post that if the Kurds abandon the prisons to defend their territory from Turkey's invasion, the U.S. doesn't have the forces or mandate to intervene if ISIS militants escape.
Turkey's incursion was preceded by President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the reason late Sunday night, essentially giving Turkey a green light, though Trump later reacted to the swift condemnation of his pullback by saying he would "totally destroy and obliterate" Turkey's economy if it crossed some unspecified line. Navy Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, told the Post that Turkey would be "responsible for freeing thousands of ISIS fighters" if it invaded.
Turkey's presidential communications director Fahrettin Altun said in a Washington Post op-ed Wednesday that Ankara plans to "neutralize" the Syrian Kurds, which it calls terrorist. Meanwhile, ISIS militants staged a small attack on SDF posts in Raqqa, ISIS's former capital, and Iran announced surprise special operations military drills near the Iranian-Turkish border. The Washington Post's David Ignatius said Tuesday that the "Turkish attack appears coordinated with the Russians, and "Russian-backed forces are mobilizing to invade the Kurdish area from the south."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Washington of playing a "very dangerous game" with the Syrian Kurds. "Such reckless attitude to this highly sensitive subject can set fire to the entire region, and we have to avoid it at any cost," he said.