Turkish-Aligned Forces Take Syrian Border Town As Humanitarian Costs Soar


On Saturday 12 October, Turkish-backed Syrian rebels entered the border town of Ras al Ain. At the time of writing, reports of Turkish control of the town are uncertain; while Turkish sources claim that the town has been captured, Kurdish-led forces maintain that fighting continues. This comes only days after Turkey announced its plan to invade north-east Syria and create a ‘safe zone’ so that Syrian refugees can return to the area. International condemnation of Turkey’s actions has been swift as the human cost of the incursion begins to snowball.

Mere days after Turkey began military operations, the humanitarian costs are mounting. Various news organizations have reported that the United Nations estimates that Turkey’s invasion has displaced 100,000 people. However, local authorities believe that the actual number is much higher, claiming that 200,000 people have already been forced to flee their homes. According to Al Jazeera, Christian Cardon de Lichtbuer, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told reporters, ‘What is happening and what has been happening in the last 48 hours is extremely worrying, and I believe that we have there all the ingredients for unfortunately yet another humanitarian crisis in Syria’. The international community has been quick to condemn Turkey’s actions. Germany and France have already halted all arms exports to Turkey, while the United States is threatening economic sanctions. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has however refused to bow to international pressure.

Erdogan, in a speech on Friday, claimed that Turkey is targeting ‘terrorist positions’ in the region. Such a move would usually be welcomed as part of the global ‘War on Terror’, which has been waged since 2001. However, as was described in an earlier piece by the Organization for World Peace, the Turkish government has historically seen Kurdish fighters as terrorists. The official government position on the Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Force (SDF) aligns with this view, and Ankara has labelled the group as a terrorist group. As such, Turkey’s stated goal – that is, the establishment of a safe zone free from terrorist activity – places the SDF in a precarious position that is exacerbated by the loss of their main ally in the region, following the U.S. withdrawal earlier in the week.

Contrary to their stated goal of creating a ‘safe zone’, Turkey’s actions have caused a resurgence of terrorist activity in the region. The Islamic State, which the United States has claimed to have defeated earlier in the year, has already committed several terror attacks throughout the Kurdish-held area. There are fears that continued military assault will increase this. The instability caused by invasion provides fertile grounds for recruitment, and the SDF is now forced to fight on two fronts: against both ISIL and the Turkish-backed rebels.

Turkey’s ongoing offensive can only worsen the current situation. The potential for a humanitarian crisis is too great, and a resurgence of terrorist activity is an unacceptable outcome. Turkey must bow to international pressure and withdraw; if they refuse, the human cost will be unimaginable.