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Civilian casualties likely as Turkey pounds Kurds with artillery

It started at just after 4pm. By the end of the evening, eight hours later, the Turkish military had fired at 181 targets over the border in Syria.

Earlier in the day, the defence ministry of Turkey had said their operation to attack and enter northern Syria would begin "soon".

We speculated with journalist colleagues with us on the border whether that would mean the same day or maybe a day or two later.

At 4pm the phone and internet networks were cut across the town. We wondered if it was a signal that perhaps the operation was about to start – it's the sort of thing militaries do before operations like this.

Image: The military operation is likely to result in civilian casualties

Then we heard the first thumping booms. They were followed quickly by cheers and the beeping of car horns.

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The people here support this battle.

Their hatred of the Kurds, who they see as part of a wider terrorist separatist group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), far pre-dates the Syrian war which this latest military adventure will now further inflame.

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Overhead, the triple thuds of artillery over our heads, coming from north of us and heading south onto the Kurdish positions.

Explosions rock Syria's Tel Abyad. Pic: Haberturk
Image: Explosions rock Syria's Tel Abyad. Pic: Haberturk

Seconds later plumes of smoke marked the impact on the other side.

Then a little return fire. One artillery round landed about 300 metres from the border wall where the locals were watching with what looked to me like a mixture of excitement and fear.

I thought about one of the many ironies all in this – the weapons being fired back at Turkey were almost certainly provided by America.

By ordering US troops out of the area at the weekend, Donald Trump had made it possible for one key western ally, Turkey, to attack another key western ally, the Kurds, and for them to hit back with American weapons.

The reports suggested that one of the first targets to be hit was, until a few days ago, a key US army observation post from where American special forces, with Kurdish soldiers, had battled the Islamic State.

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There must have been some very hard farewells at the weekend as the Americans troops, respecting their orders, left their posts and their Kurdish comrades.

By mid-evening, with the bombardment continuing, we began to get feel of the situation from our own long established contacts over the border.

One said he was unable to help us out anymore. He needed to focus on his family and their safety.

Another Kurdish activist sent us images being distributed among them: footage of injured and dead civilians.

Syria: Mike Pompeo defends President Trump's withdrawal of troops

Syria: Mike Pompeo defends President Trump's withdrawal of troops

Despite announcing US troops were pulling out of the region, Donald Trump describes Turkey's operation as "a bad idea".

They were the victims of this latest chapter in the Syrian war, they claimed.

We're yet to verify them. There is a motive for disinformation in a fight like this.

But it seems impossible that there won't have been civilian casualties.

Turkey is absolutely alone in seeing the merits of this operation.

Governments globally have warned against it.

As I write there are reports that some of the targets hit were near the camps housing Islamic State (IS) prisoners and their families.

Syrian-Kurd civilians were on the streets demonstrating before the strikes took place
Image: Syrian-Kurd civilians were on the streets demonstrating before the strikes took place

Not only have the Kurds been pivotal in the fight to destroy the IS, they are also now guarding the prisons containing the 70,000 IS prisoners and their families (because no one else knows what to do with them).

The next few days will see the operation continue with the ground offensive by the Turkish.

The international community, led by a UN Security Council meeting, urgently wants answers from Turkey.

The Turkish president insists this operation will help the civilians on the ground, allow Syrian refugees to return and continue the fight against IS.

Right now it's hard to see how any of those statements is true.

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