(UR) Northern Syria — A day after crossing the border into northern Syria in a joint action with U.S.-led coalition forces, Turkey has taken aim at Kurdish YPG fighters in Jarabulus — the same Kurdish fighters the U.S. is backing in the war on terror.
Operation “Euphrates Shield” launched Wednesday and was aimed at “clearing the Turkish border of terrorist groups, helping to enhance border security and supporting the territorial integrity of Syria,” Turkey’s Anadolu reported.
But President Erdoğan said from the outset that Turkey’s involvement was about more than fighting ISIS. As Reuters reports, highlighting the complicated nature of the Turkey-U.S. partnership:
“President Tayyip Erdogan said the operation was targeting both Islamic State and the Kurdish PYD party, whose gains in northern Syria have alarmed Turkey. Ankara views the PYD as an extension of Kurdish militants fighting an insurgency on its own soil, putting it at odds with Washington, which sees the group as an ally in the fight against Islamic State.”
Now, within 24 hours of Turkey joining a military action against what the U.S. thought was ISIS, Turkish forces have turned and captured the northern city of Jarabulus.
Reuters, citing a top Turkish official, writes that there are “now more than 20 Turkish tanks inside Syria and that additional tanks and construction machinery would be sent in as required.”
The news agency also reports that “After seizing Jarabulus, the Turkish-backed rebels have advanced up to 10 km (6 miles) south of the border town, rebel sources and a group monitoring the war said.”
In fact, Turkey, after taking Jarabulus, demanded that Kurdish YPG fighters in the northern Syria city of Manjib retreat east of the Euphrates River. Kurdish fighters — with the generous aid of U.S. airstrikes — had taken control of Manjib in early August.
Now Turkish tanks are rolling south toward Manjib, and the Turkish military has given the U.S.-supported Kurds a week to vacate the town.
Interestingly, Reuters reports that the U.S. agreed to the Turkish military’s demands:
“U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu by phone on Thursday that YPG fighters were retreating to the east side of the Euphrates, as Turkey has demanded, foreign ministry sources in Ankara said.”
So it appears the United States was just ordered — by a supposed ally with whom it 24 hours before had entered into a military campaign — to remove its Kurdish forces from a town, Manjib, it only weeks ago had helped capture.
Turkey barked, and the U.S. jumped.
One wonders how much Turkey’s budding relationship with Russia factored into John Kerry’s decision to abandon Manjib. Turkey and Russia’s recent period of hostility has ended, it seems, and the two countries are back to cooperating. A proposed TurkStream pipeline, for instance, which would bypass Ukraine, has much of Europe worried about energy dependence on Russia.
But Turkey also seems to side with Russia on the issue of Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. views the ouster of Assad in Syria as a must, while the Russians have stated that Assad’s removal can only come by way of a democratic election.
Indeed, on August 20, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim stated at a meeting with foreign media that Turkey would accept Bashar al-Assad as the Syrian leader in a “transitional period” while insisting the president has “no place in Syria’s future.”
Meaning Assad’s immediate removal isn’t a requirement in Turkey’s idea of victory in Syria — which stands in direct opposition to the U.S. agenda.
Remember also, that while all this plays out, Erdoğan still believes the CIA had a hand in July’s coup attempt, and since that time Turkey has been edging closer and closer to Russia.
Add to this Turkey’s newfound confidence on the battlefield — to the point where it’s making demands of the U.S. military — and it appears that, at a minimum, Turkey’s loyalty can no longer be counted as a given in the Middle East.
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