Australia worried about Turkish offensive, IS resurgence

PERTH, Australia (AP) — Australia is worried Turkey's military incursion in northern Syria could galvanize a resurgence of the Islamic State group, and has refused to endorse the close ally U.S. for pulling back its troops from the area.

Turkey launched airstrikes, fired artillery and began a ground offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria on Wednesday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the campaign, which followed the abrupt decision Sunday by President Donald Trump to essentially abandon Syrian Kurdish fighters, leaving them vulnerable to a Turkish offensive that was widely condemned around the world.

The decision was a major shift in U.S. policy and drew oppositions from all sides at home.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday he had been in contact with the Turkish and U.S. governments overnight but admitted to being worried about the situation.

"We are very concerned about what this could potentially mean for the Kurdish people," he said. "We're concerned about what this could mean for the potential for the resurgence of Daesh," he added, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Trump has been criticized for his stark change in rhetoric after last year vowing to stand by the Kurds, who have been America's only allies in Syria fighting Islamic State militants. Morrison declined to comment on Trump's decision but said Australia would "work together" with the U.S. on the matter.

"Let's be clear, it's the Turkish government that is taking action here to create an unstable situation," he said. "They're the ones who are actually deploying and seeking to walk across a border and to take actions in another nation state."

"It's the actions of the Turkish government that concern Australia very seriously," he said.

There are fears the incursion could put Australian women and children stranded in the al-Hawl refugee camp at risk.

Australia's Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the government would not rush to extract the Australians. It comes in the wake of the government stripping three dual nationals in Syria of their Australian citizenship. They reportedly include Zehra Duman, who fled Australia as a teenager to marry an Islamic State militant.

"The advice in relation to some of these women is, far from being dragged there by their husband or boyfriend, they've gone willingly and/or they're as hardcore as some of the male terrorists that they've seen in Syria and Iraq," Dutton told 2GB Radio.

In 2014, Australia joined the U.S-led coalition and offered military and financial support to fight the Islamic State through the establishment of the Australian Defence Force's Operation Okra, which had a cut in the 2019-20 defence budget due to the apparent defeat of the Islamic State ground forces in Syria and Iraq.

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