PHOTO: Kurdish fighter overlooks the Tishreen Dam, captured last month from the Islamic State in northern Syria
The US has tried to reassure Turkey, amid reports that American special forces are playing an important role in the Kurdish-led offensive against the Islamic State in northern Syria.
The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph F. Dunford, met Turkish counterpart General Hulusi Akar, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and other top military officials on Wednesday.
Turkish outlets report Dunford’s expression of support for Ankara’s stance against the leading Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), whose YPG militia has led the westward advance across northern Syria.
The YPG is the major faction in the Syrian Democratic Forces, who captured the Tishreen Dam on the Euphrates River last month. Reports indicated that Kurdish units crossed to the west bank of the Euphrates for the first time.
Turkey has warned the Kurds not to proceed west of the Euphrates, including an approach to the city of Jarablus in north-central Syria on the Turkish border. Jarablus was the proposed eastern end of a 98-km (61-mile) “safe zone” proposed by Ankara in summer 2014, but never pursued — in part because of American objections.
Turkish officials and the Syrian opposition and rebels are concerned the Syrian Democratic Forces will move beyond their offensive against the Islamic State, trying to control opposition-held territory in Aleppo Province between Azaz and Jarablus.
Those concerns have been magnified since late November by clashes between the Kurds, allied with the dissident rebel faction Jaish al-Thuwar, and rebels in northwest Syria. Pro-opposition outlets claim the Kurds are seeking to link the Afrin canton, northwest of Aleppo city, with their Kobane and Cezire cantons in north/northeast Syria.
In advance of a visit from US Vice President Joe Biden, Dunford reportedly told Turkish officials that the US still sees the PYD as an affiliate of Turkey’s Kurdish movement PKK, which has been declared a terrorist organization by Washington. The General supposedly said that the US Government will not tolerate a PYD “fait accompli” establishing power aound the area of the Euphrates.
Although the focus of the meetings were on the Kurdish situation, Dunford also said that the US still sees the Assad regime as the “source of the crisis”, according to the Turkish outlets.
US Special Forces at Front of Kurdish-Led Offensive?
Dunford’s visit came amid reports in Syrian opposition media of an arrangement in which US special forces, rather than Kurds, hold the recently-claimed territory west of the Euphrates.
The Local Coordination Committees claim from “several sources” that US troops are holding the area west of the Tishreen Dam, thus allowing Turkish authorities to say that the Kurds have not crossed the river.
The LCC had already reported the arrival of US special forces in the Kurdish town of Kobane in November. The site also said that a joint operations room was established by the US and the Syrian Democratic Forces on December 22, days before the takeover of the dam.
Any American reassurance to the Turks may soon be tested, however. Reports are gathering that the SDF will soon move on Manbij, further to the west of the Euphrates.