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Albin Szakola

Syria Kurds’ allies "challenging"
Turkey’s red-line

Jaysh al-Thuwar seemingly aimed to assuage Ankara’s fears by stressing it had no ties with the PKK

Jaysh al-Thuwar troops. (image via jeshalthowar.com)

BEIRUT – A close ally of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has launched an offensive to seize an ISIS-held town west of the Euphrates, testing Turkey’s publicly stated goal of establishing a “safe zone” that prevents Kurdish forces from expanding along its border.

 

Jaysh al-Thuwar announced Wednesday night on Twitter that it had “begun the battle to liberate Manbij from ISIS’s gangs, targeting ISIS’s bases with rockets and achieving direct hits.”

The ethnically Arab rebel group—which has been fighting alongside the YPG in northern Syria—also issued a separate statement stressing that it had no links to the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, which could be interpreted as an implicit message aiming to calm Ankara. 

The statements come after the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition, which includes Jaysh al-Thuwar, seized the Tishreen Dam approximately 25-kilometers southeast of Manbij on December 26.

Backed by the airstrikes of the US-led international coalition, SDF fighters in recent days not only took territory along the eastern bank of the Euphrates but also pushed across the dam on to the western side of the river, challenging Turkey’s self-declared “red-lines” for Kurdish activity in northern Syria.


Ankara has a wary view of the SDF, which is dominated by the 30,000-strong YPG and also includes smaller local Arab and Assyrian militias in northern Syria.

 

On December 28, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned that Ankara would not look “positively” on any force hostile to Turkey moving westward past the Euphrates, in a reference to the YPG.

 

However, Davutoglu said that only Arab, and not YPG, forces had crossed the Euphrates following the seizure of the Tishreen Dam, implying that Ankara would accept—for the time being—the Kurds’ Arab allies in the YPG operating in Turkey’s planned “safe zone.”

 

Ankara considers the YPG—which is affiliated with the PKK—to be a terrorist organization, and has explicitly warned that it will not allow the militia group to capture more ground in Syrian territory along Turkey’s border after the gains it made there earlier in the year.

 

Turkey has shelled Kurdish units attempting to cross the Euphrates River to conduct raids on ISIS forces positioned around Jarablus north of Manbij near the Turkish border, in effect enforcing a “red line” between the YPG and Ankara’s planned “safe zone.”

 

Jaysh al-Thuwar denies any links to PKK

 

Only an hour before announcing it had launched a campaign to take Manbij, Jaysh al-Thuwar issued an unusual statement saying it had no ties to the PKK, which Turkey views as a terrorist organization.

 

“In my name and my capacity as General Commander of Jaysh al-Thuwar, which is a part of the Free Syrian Army, I would like to set straight what certain hateful tongues are trying to put about,” Abu Ali Birad began in his statement.

 

“These people and those like them repeatedly claim that Jaysh al-Thuwar is in an alliance with the PKK party and no one has refuted this deceitful claim despite the fact that everyone knows and realizes the untruthfulness of this propaganda,” he said.

 

“I declare in my own name and in my revolutionary capacity as the commander of Jaysh al-Thuwar that no relationship unites us with that party, not from near or far, nor in combat operations or through any other [form of] coordination.”

 

Birad made no reference to the ties of his close allies, the YPG, with the PKK. The two Kurdish-groups are said to be closely linked and are part of the KCK, an umbrella organization bringing together groups that follow the ideology of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

 

Although the Jaysh al-Thuwar statement did not mention Turkey, it could be interpreted as a message aimed at Ankara, which views the PKK as its arch-foe and has repeatedly said it would not accept further Syrian Kurdish advances along Turkey’s border.

 

Ullin Hope translated the Arabic-language source material for this article.

Jaysh al-Thuwar troops. (image via jeshalthowar.com)

These people and those like them repeatedly claim that Jaysh al-Thuwar is in an alliance with the PKK party and no one has refuted this deceitful claim despite the fact that everyone knows and realizes the untruthfulness of this propaganda.