Turkish ground troops entered north-east Syria in the early hours of Thursday morning, its defence ministry said, hours after an aerial bombardment by Ankara sent waves of civilians fleeing for safety.
Some five people were killed in Turkey’s initial attacks on Wednesday, according to a statement from the Kurdish Red Crescent humanitarian organisation. Towns on the Turkish side of the border were also reportedly hit by shelling as Kurdish forces responded.
The long-anticipated offensive has sparked an international backlash, amid concerns over the threat to civilians and US-backed Kurdish forces, which have led the fight against Isis, and fears that the operation could enable the resurgence of the jihadist group.
Ankara has said it wants to push Kurdish fighters that it considers terrorists away from its borders and create a safe zone that Syrian refugees in Turkey can return to. Wednesday’s attack came days after US troops left the border area in an apparent green light for the Turkish operation.
The EU has called on Turkey to stop the military incursion and President Donald Trump has threatened to “destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if it takes actions he deemed “off-limits”. He has also said that Ankara must take responsibility for Isis captives, previously seen as the responsibility of Kurdish fighters.
The US military has already moved some foreign Isis fighters who were being held by US-allied Kurdish forces in north-east Syria out of the country, concerned that they might escape in the wake of the Turkish military incursion.
“In case the Kurds or Turkey lose control, the United States has already taken the two Isis militants tied to beheadings in Syria . . . out of that country and into a secure location controlled by the US,” Mr Trump wrote in a tweet early on Thursday.
The Washington Post reported that US forces had taken over custody of about 40 men accused of fighting with Isis. The group once controlled territory the size of Great Britain straddling Iraq and Syria, killing, raping and enslaving people as part of their campaign to create a so-called Islamic State.
Mr Trump said two of the Isis captives transferred by the US were from the so-called Beatles group, the name given to four British Isis militants involved in the murders of western hostages, which were filmed and used for Isis propaganda.
Mr Trump did not specify where the Isis militants had been taken. In the past few months, French nationals accused of being Isis fighters have been transferred to Iraqi state custody. Washington has consistently criticised European powers for refusing to take back nationals alleged to have joined Isis.
The US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces warned that Isis could take advantage of the Turkish incursion to stage jailbreaks. The SDF is spearheaded by Kurdish fighters belonging to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) that is closely linked to a militant group that has perpetrated terror attacks in Turkey