The latest on what's happening in Syria

1:13 p.m. ET, October 14, 2019

Senior US defense official: Trump is "falsely claiming that the SDF Kurds are letting ISIS prisoners out "

President Trump is "falsely claiming that the SDF Kurds are letting ISIS prisoners out of prison," a senior US defense official told CNN, referencing the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

The official added that Trump "is wrong because they are the people that defeated ISIS, wrong because they are currently risking their lives to defend our forces and wrong because they are fighting a force that intends to eliminate their people because we green lighted their operation."

President Trump’s order to pull back US troops from the border has been criticized as effectively giving Turkey the green light to launch their offensive.

Some background: Trump tweeted this morning alleging that the SDF may intentionally release any of the 10,000-plus ISIS prisoners in SDF custody as part of a bid to draw international support. US officials have told CNN there are no indications that this is happening.

While the SDF has repeatedly highlighted the danger of ISIS escaping to draw attention to the issue and draw international support, they have made it clear that they need to prioritize their personnel, redeploying forces that had been guarding the detention camps to the front with Turkey, leaving some of the camps undermanned or even near totally abandoned.

12:37 p.m. ET, October 14, 2019

Turkey claims Kurdish fighting force released ISIS militants, though US sees no evidence of claim 

Turkey claims Kurdish fighters released ISIS prisoners from a holding facility in northeast Syria as the ongoing Turkish operation raises concerns of an ISIS resurgence. 

During a raid on a prison in the town of Tal Abyad on Monday, Turkish forces determined that the prisoners had been set free “in an attempt to fuel chaos in the area,” said a senior Turkish official who cannot be named due to protocol.

“A forensic examination of the site revealed that the inmates did not break any doors… The PKK/YPG prison guards appear to have released dangerous Daesh militants, as they had formerly threatened to do," the official said.  "The folly of trusting a terrorist group for keeping watch over another is exposed for all,” the official said. 

Some background: The part of Syria that's now under attack by Turkey has been controlled by the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the armed Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a defense force mostly made up of Kurds.

Ankara considers the YPG — a Kurdish fighting force that makes up the majority of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — to be an offshoot of the PKK, which is considered to be a terrorist group by Turkey.

US officials have told CNN there are no indications that the SDF have intentionally released any of the 10,000-plus ISIS prisoners in SDF custody as part of a bid to draw International support in the face of a Turkish assault on Kurdish areas in north Syria.

While the SDF has repeatedly highlighted the danger of ISIS escaping to draw attention to the issue and draw international support, they have made it clear that they need to prioritize their personnel, redeploying forces that had been guarding the detention camps to the front with Turkey, leaving some of the camps undermanned or even near totally abandoned.

10:45 a.m. ET, October 14, 2019

The Kurds are under attack. Here's what you need to know.

The part of Syria that's now under attack by Turkey has been controlled by the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the armed Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a defense force mostly made up of Kurds.

Now neighboring Turkey has launched a military operation to move the Kurds away from its border.

Here's what you need to know about the Kurds and Turkey's operation:

  • About the Kurds: The Kurdish people are an ethnic minority group without an official state. Before World War I, Kurds lived a nomadic lifestyle until the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, which stripped them of their freedom and divided them across several nation states. Today, there are an estimated 25-30 million Kurds, the majority living in a region that stretches across parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Armenia.
  • Where Turkey stands: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has always adopted a robust attitude against Kurdish nationalism. The President made it clear that his ultimate goal is to eliminate the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a Kurdish far-left militant and political organization based in Turkey and Iraq that fought the Turkish state for more than three decades.
  • Why Turkey wants to push back the Kurds: Turkey has long been unhappy about the strong Kurdish presence in northeast Syria near the Turkish border. Now, their longtime plan to create a buffer zone in northern Syria is underway. There are two goals: drive the Kurds away from their border, and use this area to resettle around 2 million Syrian refugees.
10:03 a.m. ET, October 14, 2019

Syrian troops enter more towns in Northern Syria state media says

Syrian state media reported today that Syrian army units have entered the strategic city of Tabqa in northern Syria, a day after it emerged that the government in Damascus had struck a deal with the Kurdish forces in light of the Turkish military offensive on the area.

According to state-run SANA, the army entered Tabqa and its military airport, as well as the town of Ain Issa and “several towns and villages in the Raqqa countryside.”

Tabqa is also home to a large dam that supplies electric power to a wide area of Syria.

9:54 a.m. ET, October 14, 2019

Syrian Kurds are in the process of reaching an agreement with Russia on Syrian army

The governing coalition in the Kurdish self-administered region in northern Syria is in the process of agreeing “of a memorandum of understanding with the Russian side," the coalition said in a statement today.

“The memorandum stipulates that everyone should be involved in the protection of the border, hence allowing the presence of members of the government army on the border and the start of joint protection tasks with the SDF,” it said, referencing a deal struck with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to send army troops to the northern border area with Turkey for the first time in years.

“At the same time, this does not contradict the project of the Self-Administration, since the protection of borders is the duty of all Syrians,” the statement added.

The statement went on to say that “this understanding is preliminary and the priorities are to prevent the Turkish attack — and discussions are continuing regarding a future mutual understanding.”

“We are talking about a joint border protection mechanism. In the event of averting the Turkish threat, the rest of the matter can be discussed with a Russian guarantee,” it added.

9:42 a.m. ET, October 14, 2019

Iran: We hope Turkey "will not continue on this path"

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the country hopes Turkey "will not continue on this path" regarding the Turkish military offensive in Syria.

“Today we are facing something in the north of Syria which is not pleasant for the region and certainly not for the Kurds in Syria, the government in Syria, nor for us," he said. 

He continued:

“The solution of the security concerns of Turkey in Syria is only the presence of the Syrian National Army in that region of Syria. The methods that Turkey has chosen to enter Syrian territory even though Turkey promised to respect” the Syrian territory, he said. “We do hope that the Turkish government…. Will not continue on this path."
9:36 a.m. ET, October 14, 2019

UN Secretary-General is "gravely concerned" over military developments in northeast Syria

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is “gravely concerned” about recent military developments in northeast Syria, “which have already reportedly resulted in many civilian casualties and the displacement of at least 160,000 civilians,” the UN said in a statement this morning.

Guterres “continues to urge for maximum restraint” and “calls for immediate de-escalation.”

9:15 a.m. ET, October 14, 2019

Trump says Kurdish-led Syrian forces released ISIS fighters on purpose. There's no indication of that.

Contrary to Trump's allegation, US officials have told CNN there are no indications that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have intentionally released any of the 10,000-plus ISIS prisoners in SDF custody as part of a bid to draw international support in the face of a Turkish assault on Kurdish areas in north Syria.

While the SDF has repeatedly highlighted the danger of ISIS escaping to draw attention to the issue and draw international support, they have made it clear that they need to prioritize their personnel, redeploying forces that had been guarding the detention camps to the front with Turkey, leaving some of the camps undermanned or even near totally abandoned.

The US believes the SDF is unlikely to intentionally release any ISIS prisoners as they would pose a direct threat to Kurdish areas given the hatred ISIS has for the Kurds given their role in ejecting ISIS from its territory in Syria. 

The SDF have also said can't take sole responsibility for the camps in the face of a Turkish attack. Turkish warplanes and artillery have also repeatedly struck several detention camps which could jeopardize the security of the facilities. 

Here's Trump's tweets this morning:

8:58 a.m. ET, October 14, 2019

What you need to know about Turkey, Syria and the US

We're following developments out of Syria today, following last week's Turkish military offensive and the weekend news that the US would withdraw its troops.

If you're just tuning in, here's what you need to know:

  • Where the US stands: The US has accelerated its plans to withdraw troops from Syria after Turkey launched its military offensive into northern Syria last week.
  • About Turkey's offensive: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation will extend 30-35 kilometers into Syrian territory. Turkish-led forces claimed to have seized control of Ras Al Ain, a crucial Syrian border town. Over 150,000 people have been displaced in the area since the operation began, according to the UN.
  • The deal: Yesterday, the Kurdish forces announced a deal with the Syrian government, led by Bashar al-Assad, to deploy troops from the Syrian army along the Syrian-Turkish border. Syrian state media announced the arrival of the troops in the north on Monday morning.