10/09/2019 20:03 EDT | Updated 10/09/2019 20:38 EDT

Chrystia Freeland Condemns Turkey's Military Incursion Into North Syria

U.S. President Donald Trump decided American troops would stand aside, leaving Kurdish forces vulnerable.

SEBASTIEN ST-JEAN via Getty Images
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland speak during a joint press conference on Aug. 22, 2019 in Ottawa. 

OTTAWA — Canada has joined its major allies on Wednesday in firmly condemning Turkey’s military incursion into northern Syria.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland made Canada’s position clear in a series of late-afternoon tweets, saying the unilateral action by Turkey risks rolling back the progress against Islamic State militants, also known as Daesh.

Turkey’s military action is targeting Kurdish forces, and comes after U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly decided Sunday that American troops would stand aside — a radical shift in American foreign policy.

“Canada firmly condemns Turkey’s military incursion into Syria today,” Freeland said on Twitter.

Watch: Turkey launches attack on U.S.-backed Kurds in Syria. Story continues below.

“This unilateral action risks undermining the stability of an already-fragile region, exacerbating the humanitarian situation and rolling back progress achieved by the Global Coalition Against Daesh, of which Turkey is a member.

“We call for the protection of civilians and on all parties to respect their obligations under international law, including unhindered access for humanitarian aid.”

Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria drew widespread condemnation internationally and across party lines within the U.S. because it is widely seen as abandonment of the Syrian Kurdish fighters who have been America’s sole allies in Syria fighting the Islamic State group.

Burak Kara via Getty Images
People wave as Turkish soldiers prepare to cross the border into Syria on Oct. 9, 2019 in Akcakale, Turkey. 

Trump said he wanted to end American involvement in what he called “these endless, senseless wars.”

Tens of millions of Kurds live on land divided among Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, comprising sizable minority populations in each country, and many seek a separate state.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to create a “safe zone” free of Kurdish fighters, which it views as terrorists aligned with Kurdish rebels inside Turkey.

 “We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists,” Erdogan said shortly after the start of what he calls “Operation Peace Spring.” 

Burak Kara via Getty Images
The first group of Turkish infantry prepare to enter Syria on the border between Turkey and Syria on Oct. 9, 2019 in Akcakale, Turkey. 

After the Turkish attack began, Trump called it a “bad idea,” and Germany and the European Union, among others, have also criticized it.

Trump said he would ensure Turkey lived up to a commitment to protect civilians and religious minorities, including Christians, and to prevent a humanitarian crisis. He also called on Turkey to ensure that captured Islamic fighters remain in custody.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas condemned the Turkish invasion “in the strongest possible terms” and called for its peaceful ending.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also called on Turkey to end the operation, and said that “if the Turkish plan involves the creation of a so-called safe zone, don’t expect the European Union to pay for any of it.” 

Win McNamee via Getty Images
President Donald Trump responds to a question from a reporter at the White House Oct. 9, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Turkey is a member of the NATO alliance, along with Canada, the United States and many European countries, but it is not a member of the European Union.

“Trump’s craven and ill-advised retreat in Syria is a betrayal of our Syrian Kurdish partners, will instigate further fighting, embolden a still-not-defeated ISIS, and reward our adversaries — Russia, Iran and the Assad government (in Syria). It will also do considerable harm to America’s credibility as the global leader,” said Nicholas Burns, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs for ex-president George W. Bush.

Canadian Forces troops used to train Kurdish security forces in neighbouring Iraq, but have since shifted focus to leading the NATO training mission for Iraqi state security forces, a commitment that extends to 2021.

Canadian special forces worked in close contact with Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, for more than three years to stop the advance of the Islamic State across northern Iraq.  

But the 2017 decision by Kurdish political leaders to hold an independence referendum ended up alienating Canada and most of its allies.

“The year 2017 was disastrous for Iraqi Kurdistan,” said a report by the International Crisis Group because of the “ill-timed” referendum.

“Not only did they lose control of large swathes of the disputed territories and incur the wrath of just about every important global or regional power except Israel, but they also deepened political polarization in the Kurdish region amid reciprocal cries of betrayal when the curtain came down on the referendum gamble.”  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 9, 2019.

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