US Lt. Gen. Paul Funk greets Kurdish commanders of Syrian Democratic Forces in Manbij, Syria, February 2018
The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have temporarily halted their campaign against ISIS after they were bombarded for the second time in four days by Turkish forces.
With Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promising to “wipe out” the Kurdish militia YPG, calling them “terrorists”, his troops attacked YPG positions east of the Euphrates River in northeast Syria on Sunday and on Wednesday.
Turkish forces fired howitzer shells from southeastern Turkey into the Kurdish canton of Kobani yesterday. They reportedly killed at least 10 YPG fighters and wounded six.
The SDF said in a statement:
Turkish attacks in the north and ISIS attacks in the south against our troops had forced us to stop our current operation temporarily against ISIS in the last pocket of it.
We also call the international community to condemn the Turkish provocations in the safe areas in Syria, and we demand our partners in the International Coalition to show a clear attitude and stop Turkey from launching attacks on the region.
The US-backed force claimed that it responded to the shelling with artillery and machine gun fire, destroying a Turkish military vehicle and border post.
Shattering an Uneasy Arrangement
Since its creation by the US in autumn 2015, the SDF have taken much of northern and eastern Syria from the Islamic State, establishing a de facto Kurdish territory in a partitioned Syria and reducing ISIS to pockets of villages on the Iraqi border.
But Turkey considers the YPG to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK, which has fought Ankara’s security forces for more than 30 years.
Early this year, a Turkish-rebel offensive overran the Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwest Syria. However, until this week, an uneasy arrangement between Turkey and the US had checked any Turkish assault on the Kurdish cantons of Kobani and Cezire and SDF-held territory as far west as the city of Manbij in Aleppo Province.
The bombing east of the Euphrates shatters any accord. The river had always been an unwritten line of demarcation, with Turkish objecting to Kurdish control to the west but refraining from a challenge to the east until now.
Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Sean Robertson said on Tuesday that the US is encouraging “all parties to avoid escalation and focus on the most important task of defeating ISIS….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.”
State Department spokesman Robert Palladino added yesterday, “Unilateral military strikes into northwest Syria by any party, particularly as American personnel may be present or in the vicinity, are of great concern to us. Coordination and consultation between the United States and Turkey on issues of security concern is a better approach.”
Erdoğan told legislators from his Justice and Development Party on Tuesday:
A power, which uses all terrorist organizations indiscriminately as a lever to achieve its goals in the region, is now trying to reproduce this disgusting game….
We will destroy the terror structure east of the Euphrates River….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.