Fri, 18 Oct 2019

Syrian Kurds Highly Concerned About Possible Turkish Incursion

Voice of America
07 Oct 2019, 06:35 GMT+10

WASHINGTON - U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria say they are "highly concerned" about continued Turkish threats to invade northeast Syria.

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led military alliance that controls nearly one quarter of Syria's territory, said Sunday that any Turkish incursion into Syria would throw the entire region into indefinite instability.

"We see these Turkish threats as extremely serious," said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF.

"We fear that mass killings would be committed against our people if Turkish forces invaded this part of Syria," he told VOA.

Unilateral action

On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed his threats to launch a military offensive in northeast Syria to expel Syrian Kurdish fighters from Turkey's border.

"We've made our preparations, we've completed our operation plans, given the necessary instructions," he said during a meeting of his ruling AK Party.

Turkey views the People's Protection Units (YPG), the main force within SDF, as an extension of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been fighting for greater rights in Turkey's Kurdish-majority southeast for decades.

The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

But the U.S. makes a distinction between the PKK and YPG, backing the YPG-dominated SDF in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) terror group in Syria.

Kurdish-led SDF Transfers IS Kin to Home Countries U.S.-backed Syrian forces have handed over more than 100 women and children of Islamic State (IS) fighters to their home countries, local officials told VOA. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led military alliance, said Wednesday that Kazakhstan and Sweden were the latest countries that had agreed to take some of their citizens held in northeast Syria. "We handed over 70 children and 32 women to representatives of the Kazakhstan government yesterday," Kamal Akif, a spokesman for the...

U.S. position

U.S. officials say that any Turkish offensive in Syria would hinder efforts to defeat IS militants.

"Any uncoordinated military operation by Turkey would be of grave concern as it would undermine our shared interest of a secure northeast Syria and the enduring defeat of ISIS," Pentagon spokesperson Commander Sean Robertson told VOA in an email, using another acronym for IS.

Aykan Erdemir, a senior Turkey analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) in Washington, says Turkey has been trying to exploit the differences of opinion and commitment within the U.S. government concerning the ongoing U.S. military presence in Syria.

"Erdogan has pursued a consistent strategy vis-à-vis northeast Syria in attempting to extract of concessions from the U.S. through frequent threats of unilateral cross-border action," he told VOA.

The United States currently has about 1,000 troops in Syria that have been instrumental in the fight against IS. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has ordered a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.

"If the U.S. manages to prevent unilateral Turkish incursion this time around by offering new concessions, it is certain that there will be a repeat of the same process in the not too distant future," Aykan added.

Safe zone

Ankara and Washington agreed in August to carry out joint patrols and remove Syrian Kurdish fighters from the border area. Both sides, however, still disagree on the size of what Turkey calls a "safe zone" along the Syria-Turkey border and who is to monitor it.

U.S. and Kurdish forces call the measures a "security mechanism."

U.S. officials said they have been working closely with "our NATO ally Turkey to rapidly implement the security mechanism" along parts of Syria's border with Turkey."

"We will continue to implement the plan in designated phases and in a coordinated and collaborative manner," Commander Robertson told VOA.

On Friday, both sides conducted their third joint patrol in northeast Syria.

But some experts believe that differences over details of the agreement would likely remain.

"The incommensurable differences between Ankara and Washington will continue to lead to flare-ups between the two NATO allies," said analyst Aykan.

'All-out war'

The SDF's Bali said his group has been committed to the U.S.-Turkish agreement.

"We have implemented everything that is required from us with regards to the agreement in northeast Syria. The international coalition has acknowledged this as well," he said.

The Kurdish official added that, "If Turkey ended up attacking us, we have a legitimate right to defend ourselves along the border."

"It would be an all-out war in the region, including inside Turkey's territory," he warned.

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