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Turkish military launches attack on Kurdish positions in Syria

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Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops near the Turkish border in Hasakah Syria last November

The general command of the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces, who have borne the brunt of the fight against ISIS, charged that the USA withdrawal from northeastern Syria, and Trump's renewal of his intention to withdraw all USA troops from Syria, amounted to a "stab in the back" to a loyal ally.

"The deployments, preparations are continuing", Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told state-owned Anadolu news agency.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia's President Vladimir Putin discussed in a phone call Turkey's planned operation into northeastern Syria, the Turkish presidency said, as Ankara gears to launch its cross-border offensive.

As recently as Friday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he had "made very clear" to his Turkish counterpart that the USA would not tolerate any unilateral military action in northern Syria by Turkish forces. Turkey says those forces are terrorists due to their ties to Kurdish militants who have waged a long insurgency in Turkey.

The Kurdish-led authority in northern Syria declared a state of "general mobilization" in light of the looming attack.

Also Wednesday, Iranian state television reported a surprise military drill with special operations forces near the country's border with Turkey, in Iran's Western Azerbaijan province.

"We will preserve Syria's territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists", Erdogan said. Oktay made his comment following US President Donald Trump's threats to "destroy" the Turkish economy over plans to create a safe zone in Syria.

Altun added that the Kurdish People's Protection Units, also known as the YPG, had two options: "They can defect or we will have stop them from disrupting our counter-ISIS efforts".

Turkey was taking over leadership of the fight against Islamic State in Syria, he said.

Large explosions also rocked Ras al Ain, just across the border from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar, a CNN Turk reporter said.

The Hamza Brigade rebels from the National Army, the main rebel grouping that Turkey supports in northwest Syria, travelled in a convoy of buses accompanied by trucks loaded with ammunition, DHA said.

"The National Army forces are still preparing for the start of operations east of the Euphrates (river) and they have started moving to the frontlines", National Army spokesman Youssef Hammoud said. Howitzers were positioned behind earth embankments on the Turkish side of the border, pointed towards Syria.

It comes as the White House announced it was pulling U.S. troops out of the region.

Earlier Wednesday, IS militants targeted a post of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, which was once the de facto IS capital at the height of the militants' power in the region.

Kurdish leaders have called for a "general mobilization" along the border with Turkey after Ankara said it was about to launch an offensive into northern Syria following the pullout of USA forces from the area.

Shortly afterward, at 1444 GMT, the lira traded at 5.8660, its weakest intraday level since August as worries grew about the fallout from the conflict and any reaction from Washington.

The abrupt move, announced in a Sunday night statement from the White House press secretary following a call between Trump and Erdogan, has prompted a rare show of bipartisan opposition to the Republican President.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted Tuesday that Trump's decision to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria "could have catastrophic consequences" for the civil war there and "risks laying the ground for vast violence and suffering".

A senior SDF commander, Mazloum Kobani Abdi, told NBC on Monday that Kurdish-led forces do not rule out backtracking on their pro-US stance and joining with Syrian President Bashar Assad to fight a Turkish military offensive in the north of the Arab republic. Concerning Syria, he abruptly announced a full withdrawal of US troops last December - only to be convinced to leave a rump force of about 1,000 troops to work with the Kurdish-led forces in the battle to defeat ISIS. Trump said reiterating that America's support to the Kurds is not going away.

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