U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in eastern Syria say recent Turkish shelling attacks have stalled their offensive against their mutual enemy, the Islamic State terror group.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is a U.S.-backed coalition of Kurdish-Arab fighters dominated by the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The SDF has been fighting against IS in the Deir el-Zour region in eastern Syria.
Turkish forces recently struck several targets belonging to the YPG near the town of Kobani in northern Syria.
The SDF said Wednesday that it had the right to defend itself, and “as a result, a Turkish military vehicle was destroyed.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threats to invade our lands coincide with our campaign to push [IS] out of the remaining parts of Deir el-Zour,” Nur Mahmud, a YPG spokesperson, told VOA.
“This is [IS’s] final stronghold. Eliminating IS means a new phase of stability in Syria. But such Turkish threats create more instability in this country,” Mahmud added.
Erodgan recently increased threats to launch a major offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters near the Euphrates River.
“We will destroy the terror structure east of the Euphrates River. We have completed preparations and plans regarding this issue,” Erdogan said in a speech to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party on Tuesday.
“We have started active intervention operations against the terror organization in the last couple of days. We will soon come down hard on the terror organization with more extensive and effective operations,” he added.
PKK link seen
Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Turkey-based terror group that has been fighting for greater rights in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast for decades.
The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
But the U.S. makes a distinction between the PKK and YPG, backing the YPG-dominated SDF as its most effective fighting partner in the war against IS militants in Syria.
This partnership has angered Turkey.
In March, Turkish military and allied Syrian rebels seized the town of Afrin in northwestern Syria after a two-month campaign, which pushed YPG out of the town.
The Turkish government also demanded that Kurdish forces leave the northern town of Manbij, which was freed from IS by Kurdish-backed forces in August 2016.
In June, Turkish and U.S. officials reached an agreement to conduct joint patrols in Manbij, which included joint training between U.S. and Turkish forces around the Syrian town.
“The training process has been completed, and joint patrols will begin today or tomorrow,” Hulusi Akar, Turkish minister of defense, said Tuesday.
“The plan is to remove the YPG, collect their heavy weaponry and finally allow the real Manbij people to be in full control of their city,” he said in a public gathering.
Akar reiterated his country’s intention to go after Syrian Kurdish fighters. “After Manbij, our next venue will be east of the Euphrates,” he said.
U.S. officials called on both sides to avoid escalation and focus on defeating IS.
“We are aware of Turkish statements about a planned offensive into northeast Syria and have been in touch with Turkey and the SDF to de-escalate the situation,” Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesperson, told VOA.
“We remain fully committed to implementing the Manbij road map [agreement], which is on pace as agreed between [U.S.] Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo and [Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut] Cavusoglu,” he added.
Some analysts say the Turkish threats against the Syrian Kurds are likely to continue.
“I think Erdogan is going to increase the pressure on SDF because the U.S. is not willing to give him Manbij,” said Fabrice Balanche, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“Erdogan is furious about this, and that is why he targets Kobani. But I do not think it is the beginning of a major offensive,” Balanche added.
Balanche said the U.S. needs to protect the Kurdish territory, including Manbij.
“The U.S. needs the YPG against [IS], since Arab [fighters] of SDF are not as efficient, as we can see in Deir el-Zour,” he said.
Source: Voice of America