Ankara demands US withdrawal from Manbij in eastern Aleppo Province, end to arms to Kurdish militia YPG


UPDATE 1000 GMT: Latest reports from the battlefield say the Turkish-rebel forces are making slow progress but have taken hill overlooking the towns of Raju and Jindires, north of Afrin.

Meanwhile, Kurdish outlets are posting the photo of a member of the YPJ women’s militia, Avesta Khaboor, who reportedly carried out a suicide attack against a Turkish tank.


Turkey has applied more pressure on the US to stand aside from the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its YPG militia, as a Turkish-rebel offensive in northwest Syria moved into its second week.

Pointing to an expansion of the campaign, which has focused on the Afrin canton, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu called on the US to withdraw from the Manbij area about 130 km (80 miles) to the east.

Manbij, in eastern Aleppo Province, was captured by the YPG-led, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces from the Islamic State in 2016.

Cavuşoğlu’s demand followed a statement by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday that that Turkish forces will sweep aside the SDF all along the Turkish-Syrian border to the frontier with Iraq.

The Foreign Minister also pressed for “more concrete steps rather than words” over an end to American arms to the YPG: “The US must cut ties with the terrorist organization.”

Ankara’s officials have claimed that the US, including Donald Trump and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, have promised an end to the weapons supply. The White House has not referred to any such commitment in its account of the conversations.

Erdoğan shifted approach on Saturday, dropping the claim of US commitments and blasting the continued American support of the YPG, which Ankara sees as part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK:

Although the whole world has seen that the boss of the terrorist organization in Syria is Kandil [the center of the PKK], it is only our ally who is not accepting this. Do not forget that the truth cannot be hidden with denials.

The US complicated its position last week with slips and revelations that it sees the YPG as part of the PKK, which Washington has long listed as a terrorist organization. First, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert referred to the Turkish-rebel offensive, which began January 19, as a campaign against the PKK rather than the YPG. Then Turkish media noted that the CIA’s World Factbook explicitly lists the PYD and YPG as part of the Turkish Kurdish organization.

Pro-Assad Incendiary Strikes Injure 18+ in East Ghouta

Responding to a rebel attack on a nearby key regime base (see entry below), pro-Assad airstrikes have injured at least 18 people in Harasta in East Ghouta near Damascus.

Scores of Airstrikes & Barrel Bombs on Idlib Province

Russian and Assad regime air forces have carried out dozens of attacks on opposition-held areas of Idlib Province:

Earlier, the White Helmets reported the killing of at least five civilians in the town of Saraqeb in Idlib Province in northwest Syria.

Seven people, including a pregnant woman and three children, were killed and more than 10 wounded in the town of Maarat al-Num’an. Graphic photos have been posted of victims.

Russian warplanes also reportedly bombed the town of Abu Duhour, near the airbase captured by pro-Assad forces earlier this month. The Islamist bloc Hayat Tahrir al-Sham still holds the town, and pro-Assad units are reportedly suffering casualties from counter-attacks on the base.

Some pro-opposition analysts are arguing that the attacks are retaliation for the opposition’s refusal to attend Russia’s “national congress” gathering in the southern Russian city of Sochi:

Reports: Rebels Launch New Assault on Regime Base Near Damascus

Pro-opposition activists report that rebels have launched a new attack on a key regime base in the East Ghouta area near Damascus.

According to rebels, the Military Vehicles Management Base near Harasta is a key site for the rocketing of opposition-held areas of East Ghouta, continuing for months despite a Russian-rebel agreement for a “de-escalation zone”.

The rebels attacked the base in late November and again last month, killing scores of regime troops including several generals and colonels.

Today’s attack reportedly began with an underground detonation.

Video: Regime’s Response to Journalist Asking About Attacks on Civilians

At talks in Vienna last week, the Assad regime’s delegation — led by Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Ja’afari — responds to a journalist asking about continued attacks on civilians: