Iran launches surprise drill near Turkey border

Protesters demonstrate against US President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from northeastern Syria in front of the White House in Washington, DC on October 8, 2019.

Beirut: Iranian state television says the Islamic Republic has launched a surprise military drill with army special operations forces near the country's border with Turkey.

The exercise comes amid Iran's opposition to Turkey's planned invasion of northern Syria against Syrian Kurdish fighters there. The Syrian Kurds were US allies in the war against the Islamic State group.

The sudden Iranian drill was announced on Wednesday. The TV report says it's overseen by Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi, chief of Iran's army.

However, the state TV didn't mention the expected Turkish operation nor elaborate on the number of troops taking part in the drill in Qushchi in Iran's Western Azerbaijan province. The area is about 620 kilometers, or 385 miles, northwest of Tehran.

Iran and Russia are both key allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad's long-embattled government. Both have troops on the ground in Syria.

While they may publicly oppose a Turkish incursion into Syria, they probably don't mind an operation that diminishes the Kurdish forces.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is accusing the United States of playing "very dangerous games" with the Syrian Kurds, whose fighters were top US allies in the war against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Lavrov said during a visit to Kazakhstan on Wednesday that the US first propped up the Syrian Kurdish "quasi state" in northeastern Syria and is now withdrawing its support.

He says that "such reckless attitude to this highly sensitive subject can set fire to the entire region, and we have to avoid it at any cost."      

Russian news agencies carried Lavrov's comments and reported that Moscow has communicated that position Washington.

Lavrov didn't directly address the issue of Turkey's anticipated invasion into northeastern Syria but said that Moscow is encouraging the Kurds and the Syrian government to settle their difference through talks.

The top Russian diplomat stressed that both Damascus and the Syrian Kurds have said they are "open to dialogue, and we will do our best to help launch talks on this subject."      

The Kurdish-led civilian administration in northeastern Syria has issued a "general mobilization" call along the border with Turkey, as Ankara masses troops ahead of an imminent invasion.

The local authority, known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, says: "We call upon our people, of all ethnic groups, to move toward areas close to the border with Turkey to carry out acts of resistance during this sensitive historical time."               

It also called on the international community to live up to its responsibilities as "a humanitarian catastrophe might befall our people" in northeastern Syria.

Turkey has been preparing for an attack on the Kurdish fighters in Syria whom Ankara considers terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

President Donald Trump on Sunday abruptly announced American troops would step aside ahead of eth Turkish push a shift in US policy that essentially abandoned the Syrian Kurds, longtime US allies in the fight against the Islamic State group.

A top Turkish official says Turkey's military will "shortly" cross into Syria together with allied Syrian rebel forces after President Donald Trump announced US troops would withdraw from the area.

Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish presidency's communications director, called on the international community in a Washington Post op-ed on Wednesday "to rally" behind Ankara.

Altun says Turkey seeks to "neutralise" Syrian Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria and to "liberate the local population from the yoke of the armed thugs."       

He wrote: "The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army, will cross the Turkish-Syrian border shortly."           

Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters, allied with American forces in the fight against IS, as terrorists linked to outlawed Kurdish rebels within Turkey.

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