New military operation threatens fight against ISIS - Kurds
Turkey’s proposed military offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) east of the Euphrates River in Syria would threaten the group’s efforts to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS), YPG told the Voice of America on Wednesday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on Wednesday that the offensive would start in a few days.
Turkey recognises Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the YPG, as affiliates of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting inside Turkey for more than 30 years.
The YPG forms the backbone of U.S.-backed forces in Syria fighting against ISIS, and the United States maintains a military presence of about 2,000 troops in areas under the control of Kurdish forces.
“Our target is never U.S. soldiers,” Erdoğan said on Wednesday. “This step will allow for the path to a political solution to be opened and for healthier cooperation.”
The YPG told VOA that Erdoğan’s announcement was a clear declaration of war.
“We take Erdogan’s threats against us very seriously. He has repeatedly expressed his desire to occupy our land in northeast Syria,” said Nuri Mahmud, a YPG spokesperson.
“Our partners in the U.S.-led coalition are well aware of these Turkish moves because a Turkish attack against us can also impact the U.S. efforts to defeat [IS] terrorists.”
Turkish military operations over the past two years have removed Kurdish control from towns west of the Euphrates River, with Manbij remaining the last stronghold for the YPG on that side of the river.
Turkey and the United States agreed on a roadmap for Manbij in June, which included the withdrawal of the YPG forces from the city and joint U.S.-Turkish patrols. The delay in implementing the roadmap has frustrated Turkish officials, Reuters said on Wednesday.
Erdoğan announced plans for a new offensive for the first time on Oct. 30 and the Turkish military has been bombarding YPG positions since then.
The president’s new announcement came after James Jeffrey, the U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement, visited Turkey last week, during which Ankara urged Washington to scrap a series of observation outposts built on the Syrian border to prevent clashes between Turkey and Kurdish forces.
The Pentagon said on Thursday that the observation posts were set up, despite Turkey’s objection. Turkey believes that observation posts were built to protect Syrian Kurds, according to experts.
“Erdogan genuinely fears that the U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish forces might continue even after the war on IS is over,” VOA quoted said John Saleh, a Syrian affairs analyst in Washington, as saying.