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Tue, 19 Nov 2019 02:27 GMT

US Measures Block Turkish Ambitions in Northern Syria


Mazen Radwan

Sun, 25 Nov 2018 13:00 GMT

Enduring United States support for Arab-Kurdish forces in northern Syria proves that Turkey’s hopes for removing Kurdish forces from Manbij, west of the Euphrates, will not materialise any time soon. Ankara has time and time again tried to persuade Washington to drop its alliance with Syria Democratic Forces (SDF).

Faced with a strong US-SDF pact, Turkey urged the US to follow through with a deal that stipulates withdrawing Kurdish YPG forces—a major element of the SDF--from Manbij by the end of 2018 and to expand the scope of the deal to the east of the Euphrates River in order to avoid a confrontation between Turkish and American troops.

“There is a delay in the implementation of the roadmap. It has to be completed latest by the end of this year,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu urged Washington, citing a Turkey troubled by Kurdish activity near its borders.

Ankara views the YPG as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an organisation recognised as a terrorist movement by Turkey, the US and the European Union.

The defence pact joining US forces and the SDF in the fight against Isis in eastern Syria remains effective, Kurdish sources, requesting anonymity, told 7DNews, whilst noting that the agreement is set to expire in 2020. However, the deal is renewable.

According to the agreement, SDF forces will receive US military aid for the coming decade, in addition to the US-led international coalition for counterterrorism providing a holistic programme, sources added. Sustained US-SDF relations will last as long as terror, namely Isis, remains in Syria, they said, pointing out that Washington views the SDF as a valuable and strategic partner in counterterrorism efforts.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the US-led international coalition has extended its support for SDF units operating in the east and west of the Euphrates and areas for years 2019 and 2020.

Ongoing American support in the Kurdish-dominated region goes against Turkey’s demands for the US to terminate its partnership with the YPG. Turkey has long wanted to drive a wedge between the two forces in order to gain a foothold in SDF-held Manbij, in northeastern Aleppo.

Escalating Kurdish-Turkish tensions forced the US to set up “observation posts” along parts of the border between Turkey and Syria to help keep the focus on defeating Isis in Syria. The observation posts were announced by US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis earlier this week. Fearing a bloody Turkish assault, Kurds in Syria breathed a sigh of relief on hearing Mattis’s statements. “What this is designed to do is to make sure that the people we have fighting down in the (middle Euphrates River Valley) are not drawn off that fight, that we can crush what’s left of the geographic caliphate,” Mattis said, referring to areas controlled by Isis.“We are putting in observation posts in several locations up along the Syria border, northern Syria border, because we want to be the people who call the Turks and warn them if we see something coming out of an area that we’re operating in,” Mattis said.

Washington also made it clear to Ankara that Kurds in Syria are not a temporary ally but a long-term partner, when photos showing US troops dining with Kurdish militants near the Turkish border in Syria surfaced.

The US-backed coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters resumed its military campaign against Isis militants in eastern Syria on November 11th, after temporarily halting operations. Turkish shelling of SDF-held territory in Syria late last month prompted fighters to temporarily pause operations on October 31st.

Kurds are counting on US support for driving Isis militants out from their last enclave near the borders with Iraq and for preventing Turkey, a member of NATO, from invading SDF-controlled areas in western and eastern Euphrates.

SDF units have control over large swathes of land that extend from the eastern Aleppo countryside all the way to the Hasakah province, where Syria and Iraq share borders. They also hold areas east of the Euphrates River in Deir ez-Zor province.

Whilst Arab-Kurdish concentrations are found in the western Euphrates region, namely in Manbij, Turkish forces hold enclaves north of Aleppo, in Idlib and in the eastern Latakia countryside.

Middle East