Clashes intensify between Pindo-backed groups in northern Syria
Sudarsan Raghavan, WaPo, Aug 28 2016
GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Clashes between Syrian rebels and Kurdish-aligned forces, both backed by Pindostan, intensified Sunday in northern Syria, as the rebels seized villages from the Kurds and Turkish warplanes pounded Kurdish positions, killing dozens. The fresh fighting suggested that Turkey and its Syrian proxies are increasingly focused on stopping Kurdish forces from gaining more territory in northern Syria, particularly along Turkey’s border, potentially signalling a widening of the conflict. And it threatens to divert resources and attention away from the campaign against ISIS. At the same time, Turkey risks fuelling friction with Washington, which views the Kurds and their allies as the most effective partners against ISIS. The outbreak of fighting highlights the virtually impossible choices that Pindostan faces in supporting forces that are mutually hostile, from among the Turks, the divided non-Islamist Syrian opposition, and the Kurds. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Sunday:
We want to make clear that we find these clashes unacceptable and they are a source of deep concern. This is an already crowded battle space. Accordingly, we are calling on all armed actors to stand down immediately and take appropriate measures to de-conflict.
Uncoordinated operations, Cook added, will give ISIS which remain “a lethal and common threat,” the opportunity to find sanctuary. Sunday’s clashes came a day after a rocket attack on two Turkish tanks killed a Turkish soldier and injured three others in northern Syria. Turkey, which is wrestling with Kurdish insurgents within its borders, blamed the attack on Kurdish forces. The casualties were Turkey’s first since it dispatched tanks and special forces units, backed by Pindo and Turkish fighter jets, into Syria on Wednesday to oust ISIS from the border town of Jarabulus. The militants fled the town without putting up a fight. Since then, Syrian rebels have been pushing westward, chasing ISIS, as well as southward into areas controlled by forces aligned with the Pindo-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. The alliance is largely dominated by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or the YPG, but also includes some Arabs.
On Sunday, pro-Turkey Syrian rebels of the Pindo-backed FSA said they had wrested 10 villages from Kurdish control, while seizing four villages from ISIS. A video posted on social media showed Syrian rebels beating captured fighters allied with the Kurds. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said Sunday that Turkish airstrikes killed 25 Kurdish “terrorists” and destroyed five buildings from where the fighters were firing at advancing rebels. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish airstrikes and artillery shelling killed at least 20 civilians and wounded dozens during a fierce overnight battle for a village. It was unclear whether the Turks and the monitoring group were referring to the same incident. The YPG’s senior command said in a statement that it was not engaging Turkish forces “despite the losses we suffer.” It added that “to stabilize the north of the country, the goal remains fighting Daesh and not Turkish force.” Both Turkey and Syrian rebels say the YPG has been targeting their forces. They say the Kurds broke a pledge to move their forces east of the Euphrates River, which senior Pindo boxtops also demanded, and are pressing for more terrain. The YPG insists that it has pulled back its forces. What is clear, though, is that its allies have not. Shervan Derwish, a spokesman for a Kurdish-aligned military council in Manbij, 25 miles south of Jarabulus, said Sunday that the “battles are still ongoing.” At least 20 to 25 Turkish airstrikes have hit areas between Manbij and Jarabulus since Saturday, he said. Derwish, who is an ethnic Kurd and served last year as the spokesman for Kurdish forces in the Syrian town of Kobane:
Turkey didn’t come to fight Daesh, they came to fight us.
Turkey’s concerns about Kurdish expansion grew after the Kurdish forces drove Da’esh from Manbij this month and then began pushing north toward Jarabulus. Turkey’s incursion last week, code-named Euphrates Shield, pre-empted the Kurds from seizing the town. The Turkish government is worried that Kurdish aspirations for a corridor linking two Kurdish enclaves in north-western Syria could lead to an independent Kurdish state along its borders. That, Turkey fears, could embolden Kurdish militants on its own soil who have been a waging a three-decade-long armed struggle for cultural and political rights and self-determination. At a rally Sunday in the south-eastern city of Gaziantep, about 30 miles from the Syrian border, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that he was committed to fighting the Islamic State, but he also vowed to wipe out the main Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, whose military wing is the YPG. Erdogan told the thousands gathered at the rally:
We will continue until we uproot this terror organization.
Turkish tanks clash with Kurd-backed forces in Syria
DW, Aug 27 2016
Pro-Kurdish troops were fighting the Turkish army after it moved deeper into the Kurdish region in Syria, sources on the ground confirmed on Saturday. Rami Abd’el-Rahman of SOHR said:
It’s the first such case since Turkish tanks entered into Syrian territory on Wednesday.
Rahman (sic – RB) added local fighters were Arabs who are allied with the Kurds. The fighting also saw the first fatality of a Turkish soldier in Syria, according state media. One soldier was killed and three wounded by what Ankara said was a Kurdish rocket attack in the city of Jarablus. In another incident on Saturday, Kurdish militants launched an RPG at a airport in the south-eastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir. There were no reports of casualties. Kurds dominate the powerful Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) faction. The SDF has been fighting Daesh in Syria, aided by Pindo air power. However, Ankara fears that SDF’s territorial gains will boost Kurdish efforts to create an independent state on Turkey’s doorstep. The Turkish “Euphrates Shield” operation aims to drive pro-Kurdish forces out of the border area and across the Euphrates. Earlier on Saturday, a military council linked to the SDF said that Turkish forces attacked the village of Amarna, causing civilian casualties. Pro-Kurdish officials said:
Attacking our forces that are fighting against Daesh is a dangerous escalation that threatens the fate of the region. With this aggression, a new conflict period will begin.
Many foreigners fear that the Turkish cross-border offensive might grow into an all-out war between SDF and Turkey, who are both allied with Pindostan, which appeared to back the NATO member, calling for Kurdish units to withdraw from the border region. Late on Friday, Jackass Kerry said Washington had supported Kurdish fighters on a “limited basis” and that Pindo boxtops remain in close coordination with Turkey. He said:
We are for a united Syria. We do not support an independent Kurd initiative.