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.
Turkey along with rebels it supports from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) started a new line of attack in northern Syria with tanks rolling across the Turkish border seizing several village from the Islamic State (IS).
The incursion came from Kilis province, a province often targeted by IS rockets. Dogan news agency said Turkish tanks crossed into northern Syria from Kilis province on Saturday, while howitzers pounded ISIS positions in the area. There was a separate push by Turkish-backed rebels from the east. The rebels are mainly Arabs and Turkmen, part of the FSA. Last week rebels took the border town of Jarablus again with Turkish support. The operation called Euphrates Shield has the dual purpose of taking territory controlled by the Islamic but equally important to keep the US supported Kurds and their allies from advancing west of the Euphrates. The Turks worry that the Kurds could advance westward and link up with another Kurdish enclave further west.
On Saturday Turkish tanks entered the town of al-Rai to support rebels who already control the town. Al-Rai is approximately 55km (34 miles) west of Jarablus. It is part of a 90 km corridor next to the border Turkey hopes to clear of the IS but also will serve to prevent any possible Kurdish expansion. A senior official, Zakaria Malahifiji said: "They took several villages, about eight villages. At first they took two and withdrew from them, but then reinforcements came and there was an advance. Turkish airplanes had carried out airstrikes on Arab Essa a village about 30 km west of Jarablus, that was captured today.
Turkey disagrees with the US on the status of the Kurdish YPG militia. The US sees it as a key ally in attacking the IS whereas Turkey considers it a terrorist group. At the G20 meeting in China, Turkish president, Recep Erdogan, said: "There is no good terrorist. All terrorists are bad. All organizations involved in terrorism are cursed. This is how we see things and how we put up our struggle." Turkey claimed it had no desire to stay in Syria but was trying to protect its border from the IS and the YPG.
It was thought that the rebels might move south towards the town of Mabij controlled by the Kurdish coalition of rebels supported by the United States. The Turks may believe that US pressure will convince the Kurds to move back to east of the Euphrates river. It remains to be seen if this will actually happen. It seems inevitable that the Kurds in Syria and the Turks will have difficult relations.
Turkey wants Kurdish militia to retreat from all areas it controls west of the Euphrates River. Turkey entered Syria allegedly to clear the Islamic State (IS) from Jarabulus, a town near the border.
However it has also attacked units of the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) as well. The US voiced concern about the development, as it has been supporting the YPG as part of a coalition that has been successfully gaining ground from the IS. Turkish president Recep Erdogan worries that the Kurds may establish an independent enclave on their border and also that the Kurds east of the Euphrates would link up with another Kurd-controlled area further to the southwest. In spite of the US saying that the Turkish operation was unacceptable, Turkey said it would continue operations against the Kurds unless they withdraw from areas they have taken west of the Euphrates River.
The Turkish strikes against the YPG complicate the situation in Syria since the US supports the YPG as a key ally against the IS. The US has called the clashes unacceptable.US Vice President Joe Biden claimed last week that the US had ordered the YPG to retreat or risk losing US support but Turkey claimed it had seen no evidence of any withdrawal. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: "The YPG... needs to cross east of the Euphrates as soon as possible. So long as they don't, they will be a target." He also accused the YPG of "ethnic cleansing" around the city of Manbji, west of the Euphrates, which the YPG captured from the IS earlier this month.
Unlike the US, Turkey considers that the YPG is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that Turkey considers a terrorist organization.The YPG forces withdrew south of Jarabulus in order to protect lives of civilians but there are Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that include the YPG in and around the city of Manbji.
A recent report claims Turkish and Kurdish forces have now a "loose agreement" to stop fighting each other according to John Thomas a spokesperson for the US Central Command. The two parties agreed to concentrate on fighting the IS. Thomas said:"It's a loose agreement for at least the next couple of days and we are hoping that will solidify." US relations with Turkey are already strained but at the same time the US has found the YPG to be a valuable 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.