Countries including Germany, France, Finland and Sweden have stopped selling arms to Turkey in response to its incursion into Northern Syria. The move comes as President Donald Trump announced the US would place sanctions on Turkey in response to the invasion.
Turkey has come under fire from NATO and EU member states after its military last week crossed the Syrian border to establish a ‘safe zone’ as part of an operation called ‘Peace Spring’.
Turkish president Recep Erdoğan announced the assault on Twitter saying: “Turkish Armed Forces together with the Syrian National Army against PKK / YPG and Da’esh terrorist organizations in Northern Syria #BarışPınarıHarekatı (OperationPeaceSpring) has started.
“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 (sic).”
In a statement, the Council of the European Union condemned Turkey’s military action in Syria, saying that the move would have destabilising effects across the Middle East and displace even more people than had already been affected by the years-long Syrian civil war.
The council of the EU added: “It also significantly undermines the progress achieved so far by the Global Coalition to defeat Da’esh”, stressing that Da’esh remains a threat to European security as well as Turkey’s, and regional and international security.
Speaking in the House of Commons today UK Foreign secretary Dominic Raab announced that the UK would also halt arms sales to Turkey, telling MPs there would be “no further export licences to Turkey for items that might be used in military operations in Syria”. In the past five years, the UK has sold over £1bn worth of arms to Turkey.
The Turkish offensive against the Kurdish-controlled region of Syria began after a phone call between Erdoğan and Trump, after which the US President announced that US forces would be withdrawing from the region. Many in the region saw this move as a green light for Turkey to begin its operation.
The US military has been deployed in Syria to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces, led by the Kurds, in the fight against the Islamic State (Da’esh).
The EU said: “Turkey’s security concerns in North-East Syria should be addressed through political and diplomatic means, not with military action, and in accordance with international humanitarian law.”
In a statement posted on Twitter, Trump said that the US would increase steel tariffs to 50% along with imposing sanctions in response to the ‘destabilising actions in northeast Syria’. Trump also announced that the US was pausing negotiations on a $100bn trade deal that was being negotiated between the US and Turkey.
Trump’s statement added that any remaining US forces in the northeast of Syria were being evacuated from the area; videos on Twitter today showed US forces passing Syrian Army units as they left the region. Trump added that the US would maintain a footprint in over areas of Syria, with units being redeployed to continue to monitor the situation in the country.
The statement said: “The United States will aggressively use economic sanctions to target those who enable, facilitate, and finance these heinous acts in Syria. I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path.”
For its part, Turkey has defended the offensive saying it is necessary to defend the country from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has led a campaign against Turkey since 1984. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation by the US, UK, European Union, Turkey and Japan.
Turkey said the goal of the operation is to create a 20 km safe zone past its border with Syria to facilitate the safe return of refugees who fled Syria due to the civil war.
Turkey’s foreign ministry refuted the move from the EU, saying: “We fully reject and condemn the calls made towards our country and the conclusions adopted in the EU Foreign Affairs Council today (14 October) in Luxemburg under the title of “North East Syria” and “Turkey’s activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
The ministry added: “It is unacceptable that the EU displays a protective approach towards terrorist elements, in the face of threats and attacks against our national security as well as against Syria’s territorial integrity and national unity by PYD/YPG terrorist organization, the PKK offshoot in Syria”.
Turkey added that in response it would look ‘reconsider’ how it cooperates with the ‘EU on certain areas’.
In a statement released today, the US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper slammed the Turkish decision to invade saying that the invasion of northern Syria has already caused ‘widespread casualties, refugees, destruction and insecurity’ while also presenting a ‘growing threat to U.S. military forces’.
Esper added that he would travel to NATO’s headquarters in Brussels next week where he is set to push NATO allies to take economic and diplomatic action against ‘egregious Turkish actions’. He added that the action threatened to pull the US into a broader conflict due to the various parties at play in Syria.