By Rohit Bhatachaarya
In a telephone call between the United States (US) National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, it was clarified that the US would no longer deliver weapons to the YPG (Yekîneyęn Parastina Gel), a People’s Protection Unit operating in Syria. Necessary emphasis was laid upon Turkey’s legitimate security concerns and close co-operation was mutually agreed upon in order to avoid misunderstandings.
A diplomatic victory for Turkey
The new agreement with the US is likely to be observed by the Erdogan administration as a substantial diplomatic victory with respect to the incursion, where Turkish troops along with their Syrian rebel allies appear to have gained ground, even though heavy downpour and inconducive weather have reduced the effectiveness of airstrikes and progress on the ground.
Buoyed by the recent developments, the Turkish government has undertaken a diplomatic offensive, with Turkey’s foreign minister stating that the United States needed to act upon its promise by taking some concrete steps, which included the prompt removal of its troops from the Manbij area.
“The United States needs to break its links with this terrorist organisation and make them drop their weapons completely. They need to collect the weapons they gave and they need to withdraw from Manbij immediately,” Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists on Saturday.
The US State Department have thus far not responded to questions about ending arms funding to the YPG or withdrawing from Manbij.
A trough and boom relationship between Turkey and US
Turkey’s aerial and ground offensive in northwest Syria’s Afrin region against the Kurdish YPG militia has created a new front in the seven-year, multi-dimensional Syrian civil war, which has resulted in strained relations with its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) ally in Washington.
Turkey regards the YPG, otherwise known the People’s Protection Unit, as terrorists and as an extended branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and has been enraged by US support, in terms of arms and training, for the militia. On the other hand, the Kurdish fighters have played a significant role in American-led efforts to defeat the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.
Moving towards Manbij
Since the beginning of the eight-day-old incursion, ironically titled ‘Operation Olive Branch’, Erdogan has claimed that Turkish forces would push eastward towards Manbij, which could potentially put them in a confrontation against the American forces deployed in the region.
Earlier this week, Erdogan remarked that his Turkish troops would banish Kurdish fighters across the length of the Syrian border and could even carry out an extended push all the way east to the Iraqi frontier, a step that would risk another possible standoff with American forces stationed in the region allied to the Kurds.
A possible open encounter between US and Turkish forces
Any march by Turkish forces toward Manbij, part of Kurdish-held territory some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin, could also jeopardise American efforts to stabilise northern Syria. The US has about 2,000 troops stationed in Syria, officially as part of the international coalition against the IsS. However, American troops were actually deployed in and around Manbij to deter Turkish and U.S.-backed rebels from attacking each other. In pursuit of the same, the American forces have also carried out training exercises in the area.
Redur Xelil, a senior official for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Syrian fighters led by the Kurdish YPG, said in an interview that any greater Turkish assault would meet an “appropriate response”. He also stated that he was certain the US-led coalition against IS, which has supported the SDF in its fight against the jihadists, was attempting to pressurise Turkey to curtail its offensive.
The Kurdish plight in the region
According to Erdogan, Turkish forces and its Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel allies have killed 394 militants in the region while undergoing 20 cumulative casualties. In an official statement, the Turkish military also announced that 447 militants had been “neutralised”.
The SDF has alleged that Turkey exaggerates the number of Kurdish fighters it has killed. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war watchdog group, noted that 36 civilians in Afrin, including 10 children, have died so far along with a total of 59 YPG fighters and 69 fighters from the FSA.
However, in spite of the withdrawal of American support, the Kurdish militias will continue to bring the fight against Turkey in order to further their demand for an autonomous state while trying to preserve their autonomy in the north-eastern Syrian province of Rojava in the face of the Bashar-Al-Assad regime and the IS.
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