The Turkish military claimed that its planes had targeted Syrian Kurds in northwestern Syria according to the official news agency Anadolu. The jets hit 18 targets in a region north of the city of Aleppo.
The agency quoted an army report claiming that between 160 and 200 fighters from the Kurdish YPG , the People's Protection Units, had been killed in raids that took place Wednesday night. However, a leader of Syrian-Kurdish fighters said that while jets and Turkish artillery were attacking that there were no more than 10 casualties. The monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that just 9 YPG fighters were confirmed dead and another 26 injured in a total of 20 raids.The Anadolu agency said that nine buildings including YPG headquarters, meeting places, shelters and weapons buildings were destroyed plus 4 vehicles. Al Jazeera was unable to obtain independent verification of the casualty figures. While the agency reported that Turkish-backed rebels had been attacked by the YPG, the Observatory had no record of any such incident, Another report by RT said that the Turkish military jusified the raids as a response to five shells that had been fired from the Kurdish-held region of Afrin. Although the shells did not cause casualties or damage, the resultant strikes were in line with Turkish rules of engagement.
The attacks are bound to increase tension between the US and Turkey as the US considers the YPG a key player in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Turkey launched a ground operation against both the Islamic State in Syria and the YPG in August. It insists that the Kurds not advance west of the Euphrates river. Turkey considers the YPG be simply an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that it considers a terrorist group and which has carried out deadly attacks in Turkey during the last year.
It remains to be seen what the US will say about these attacks.President Recep Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkey would go wherever terrorist organisations were and deal with them and not wait for them to come and attack Turkey. Turkey has been acting more aggressively beyond its borders of late. It has insisted that it should be part of the offensive against Mosul and will not withdraw its troops from Iraq as demanded by Baghdad. However, it has been excluded from the Mosul offensive.
A minister in the Turkish government has rejected US claims that a temporary pause in fighting in northern Syria had been agreed upon by Turkish-backed rebels and Kurdish forces fighting in northern Syria.
Omer Celik, EU affairs minister said to the state-run Anadolu news agency: "We do not accept in any circumstances ... a 'compromise or a ceasefire reached between Turkey and Kurdish elements. The Turkish republic is a sovereign, legitimate state." This statement appears to conflict with a statement by US officials that they had received assurances that all parties involved would stop shooting at each other and concentrate on fighting the Islamic State. Colonel John Thomas, spokesperson for the US Central Command said:"It is a loose agreement for at least the next couple of days and we are hoping that will solidify." Thomas claimed that the Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) of which Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) are the main group had opened communications with the US and each other with the goal of limiting hostilities. Perhaps, the contacts are with Turkish supported rebel forces but without the blessing of the Turkish government.
Turkey wants the Kurds to withdraw to east of the Euphrates river but there are still quite a number of SDF forces west of the river including in occupation of the city of Manjbi. Josh Earnest the White House spokesperson had already said: "The US welcomes the overnight calm between the Turkish military and other counter-ISIL forces in Syria. It continues to encourage these moves as a way to prevent further hostilities and loss of life between all counter-ISIL forces operating in the area." Polat Can, the YPG representative of the anti-ISIL coalition also claimed that the SDF had reached a truce with the Turkish-backed rebels saying in a tweet: "We have reached a temporary ceasefire between the Jarablus Military Council and the occupying Turkish army in the Jarablus area under the supervision of the global coalition."The conflicting reports could indicate that there are increasing tensions between the US and Turkey about the role of the Kurds in Syria. However, the US has also asked that the Kurds withdraw from positions west of the Euphrates. Indications seem to be that until the YPG withdraws east of the Euphrates Turkish attacks will not stop.
Ten Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups who are part of the SDF led by the YPG have denounced Turkey's Euphrates Shield operation that is designed to expel the SDF as well as the IS from areas west of the Euphrates river. The group also complained of civilian deaths caused by the Turkish operation. The Euphrates Shield operation is itself carried out by FSA groups, Turkish-backed Islamist rebels, and Turkish military forces. The move threaten to divide the anti-IS coalition. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group and as much as a threat to Turkey as the IS. The US, on the other hand, regards the YPG as a key ally in fighting the IS.
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Ken is a retired philosophy professor living in the boondocks of Manitoba, Canada, with his Filipina wife. He enjoys reading the news and writing articles. Politically Ken is on the far left of the political spectrum on many issues.
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