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Turkey Begins Offensive in Syria Amid U.S. Pullout

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Turkey Begins Offensive in Syria Amid U.S. Pullout

ISTANBUL—The Turkish military began an offensive in Syria Wednesday to seize territories held by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, opening a new front in the war-ravaged country.

Turkish authorities kicked off the military incursion despite repeated U.S. warnings that it would punish Turkey if it attacks the Kurdish militants, Washington’s partner in the fight against Islamic State in northeastern Syria.

The offensive in Syria, Turkey’s third since 2016, raises fears of a violent confrontation because the Kurdish militias have vowed to defend their semiautonomous region.

Turkish officials said their twin goals were to drive armed Kurdish groups it views as terrorists back from its border with Syria and create a “safe zone” to relocate millions of Syrian refugees who have fled the eight-year conflict.

President Trump, who had first appeared to condone the operation, ordering U.S. troops to abandon positions on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey, has since threatened retaliation against the Turkish economy. U.S. senators have started drafting legislation to impose sanctions against the assets of senior Turkish officials, including President

Recep Tayyip Erdogan,

who has been invited by Mr. Trump to come to the U.S. next month.

American troops began withdrawing from the Syria-Turkey border, marking a major shift in U.S. policy as Washington pulls back from a key partner in the fight against Islamic State—the Kurds—ahead of a Turkish offensive against them. Photo: Delil Souleiman/Getty Images

President Trump continued to face criticism from fellow Republicans on Wednesday.

“We can’t abandon the Kurds now. We can’t turn it over to Turkey. To think that will work is really delusional and dangerous,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) on Fox News. “Pray for the Kurds,” he said.

The rift over Syria adds to a badly bruised relationship between Turkey and the U.S. The two members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have been sparring over Ankara’s decision to procure S-400, advanced air-defense missile systems from Russia, which U.S. officials say pose a security risk to the West’s military alliance.

Ahead of the offensive, Russia, the main backer of Syrian President

Bashar al-Assad,

said it would accommodate an incursion from Turkey to support its security. But another of the Syrian government’s supporters, Iran, urged Turkey to respect Syria’s national sovereignty.

Write to David Gauthier-Villars at David.Gauthier-Villars@wsj.com

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