Ain Issa, Syria (CNN) – Pro-Turkish forces cut off the main road between the east and west of Syrian Kurdish territory Sunday, effectively cutting off the main city of Kobani.
The move cuts off the main highway — and perhaps only route — to Kobani, where US troops are based.
CNN witnessed Turkish military armored personnel carriers on the M4 highway between Tal Tamr and Ain Issa, parked by the side of the road.
Further reinforcements made their way through the dust towards the dozen armored vehicles, parked 10 meters (about 30ft) from the road.
This was preceded by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels blocking off the highway just past Ain Issa, using a checkpoint, according to a US official.
CNN did not observe the checkpoints, but did hear gunfire on the highway which caused civilians to flee in panic.
While Kurdish civilians fear the Syrian rebels, some are also furious at US and Coalition forces, with whom they fought ISIS, for abandoning them. “God curse America,” said one man. “What have you done for us?”
Meanwhile, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesperson Mustafa Bali tweeted that almost all suspected ISIS militants had fled Ain Issa camp.
The arrival of Turkish forces on the M4 highway, also known as the international road, suggests the ambitions of Ankara are much wider than initially stated.
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The Turkish patrol was about 30 miles into Syrian Kurdish-held territory, and the Syrian rebel checkpoints, in areas where the Turkish were not thought to have ambitions.
CNN also witnessed the departure from Ain Issa of an American patrol.
The four armored vehicles left minutes before a Turkish jet flew very low over the town, “buzzing” the Syrian Kurdish fighters in it and the American convoy.
Two US Apache helicopters then flew over the town for 15 minutes, looping what is a key base for the SDF.
On the road west along the M4 there was evidence of pro-Turkish forces.
Airstrikes had hit some checkpoints, and the SUV in which the murdered Kurdish political leader Hevrin Khalaf allegedly drove, was shot up by the side of the road — its armored glass torn out of the windows.
The fall of the main highway presents a strategic crisis for the Syrian Kurds as it cuts off the remaining main access route between their key towns to the west. It also isolates the population center of Kobani, where the US has previously used an airfield and has an observation outpost.
It also shows that the initial Turkish incursion intends to pressure — at the least — Kurdish territory over 10 miles further than the 18-mile-deep corridor suggested they would occupy.
Yet the SDF face serious problems on other fronts, especially the besieged town of Ras Al Ain. They continued fighting Saturday, hours after Turkish officials claimed to have taken the town.
An SDF fighter at dawn in the town of Tal Tamr told CNN that there were about 400 SDF fighters inside the town, besieged by the Turkish-backed Syrian rebels. He drew a map with a ballpoint pen on a tablecloth, to show the encirclement of these forces, apart from one small corridor to the south.
130,000 people displaced
More than 130,000 people have been displaced from rural areas around Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, following Turkey’s military offensive in the area, according to a report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
It comes after the Turkish Defense Ministry announced on Saturday that it had taken control of Ras al-Ain.
Major Yousef Hamoud of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army also told CNN Sunday that forces had “managed to fully liberate Tal Abyad and managed to drive out the terrorist gangs of PYD/PKK.”
Public and private hospitals in Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain closed down on October 11, the OCHA reported, and 33 shelters have been set up in Raqqa, Hasakeh, and Al-Tamr.
The OCHA also reported that more than 5,000 people in a shelter in Mabrouka were relocated to Areesha after Mabrouka was hit by the offensive.
The UN estimates that as many as 400,000 people may need assistance and protection in the coming period.
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