1

Comments

Facebook

Twitter

Google

send


Haid Haid

Is a confrontation between Turkey and Syrian Kurds imminent?

The frequency and intensity of clashes looks set to rise as the two groups pursue similar objectives in northern Syria and come into contact along shared front lines

Turkish soldiers stand in a Turkish army tank driving back to Turkey from the Syrian-Turkish border town of Jarabulus on September 2, 2016. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

Turkish troops and special forces, backed by allied Syrian rebel groups, launched on August 24 the Euphrates Shield operation to liberate the strategic Syrian city of Jarablus on the border with Turkey from ISIS. Turkey's president later vowed to press ahead with the military offensive until ISIS and Syrian Kurdish militias no longer posed a security threat to Turkey. As a result, military clashes erupted on August 27 between the Turkish coalition and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The clashes further escalated when one Turkish soldier was killed, three were wounded and at least two Turkish tanks were targeted by SDF forces. Turkish artillery and jets retaliated by hitting SDF targets across several areas in Syria. There are profound concerns that this escalation could lead to an all-out confrontation between Turkey and its rebel allies against the SDF, which could further complicate the Syrian conflict and hinder the war against ISIS.

 

The Turkish-backed offensive was launched to take the border town of Jarablus and hamper both SDF and ISIS aims in northern Syria. Turkey is worried that advances by Syrian Kurdish fighters will embolden Kurdish militants in their own southeast, where it has been fighting an insurgency for three decades led by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). SDF motives were perceived with more suspicion by Turkey, Syrian rebel groups and some locals after the group turned away from previous promises to leave the liberated town of Manbij to be governed by locals after the fighting against ISIS was complete. The indications that the SDF also intended to continue their military advance to connect the Kurdish-controlled western canton of Afrin to the Rojava region (also known as Western or Syrian Kurdistan) played a crucial role in pushing Turkey to launch the first ground military operation in Syria. Turkish officials insist that Kurdish forces should immediately withdraw east of the Euphrates River or face more attacks by Turkish forces. 

 

Tension and competition over territory resulted in military confrontations between the Turkish-led groups and the SDF around northern Syria. Syrian rebels announced on August 27 the seizing of a number of villages south of Jarablus from ISIS and the SDF. The fiercest clashes reportedly took place over the village of Amarneh, 8 km south of Jarablus. The media office of Nour al-Din al-Zinki, a Syrian group backed by Turkey, claimed that Syrian rebel offensive was backed by Turkish tanks. The SDF also reported that they destroyed a Turkish tank and killed a number of soldiers while defending Amarneh. The Jarablus Military Council, a majority Arab group that is affiliated with the SDF, also reported that the clashes were preceded by Turkish airstrikes against the bases of Kurdish-affiliated forces and residential areas at Amarneh. “This creates a dangerous precedent and escalation that threatens the faith of the region and turns it into an arena for a new conflict, amid threats of the factions of the Turkish occupation,” the council said. The clashes, which continued overnight, were also reported by the Anadolu Agency, Turkey’s state news agency, without naming which group or village was targeted.

 

The general command of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) went on to accuse the Turkish-led forces of attacking YPG positions in the Raju district, which lies in the de facto Kurdish-controlled canton of Afrin in northwestern Syria. The attack reportedly resulted in the death of five YPG fighters as well as one member of the Asayesh, the Kurdish internal security force. Although the situation has become cautiously calmer in Afrin, it has been reported that Turkish tanks, artillery (155 Fırtına self-propelled howitzers) and forces continue to “mass” across the border. 

 

Furthermore, the YPG claimed in a statement that the Turkish army also crossed the border near Kobane, and opened fire on cars traveling the highway between the towns of Amude and Derbisiye in northeastern Syria. Kurdish civilians and officials alike have protested against the presence of the Turkish military vehicles, which have remained in the area of Kobane in newly dug defensive trenches.

 

The frequency and intensity of future military confrontations between Turkish-backed forces and the SDF will likely rise as the groups come into further contact along shared front lines. The Turkish-led forces share a small front line with SDF forces close to Jarablus, where most of the clashes took place. Syrian rebels backed by Turkey have also indicated their readiness to push towards the ISIS-occupied town of Al-Bab in the northeastern countryside of Aleppo in order to prevent the SDF from connecting the western canton of Afrin to the rest of Rojava regions. If the Turkish-led coalition succeeds in capturing al-Bab and SDF forces maintain their presence west of the Euphrates River, then more clashes are expected to take place. The SDF withdrawing all their military strength in the region east across the Euphrates River has been a key Turkish demand during the offensive.

 

The US has been able to broker a ceasefire between Turkey and the SDF, which prevented the small clashes from becoming an all-out confrontation. However, as long as there is no solid agreement between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds on how to coexist together, the threat of future clashes will remain. 

Turkish soldiers stand in a Turkish army tank driving back to Turkey from the Syrian-Turkish border town of Jarabulus on September 2, 2016. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

Although the situation has become cautiously calmer in Afrin, it has been reported that Turkish tanks, artillery (155 Fırtına self-propelled howitzers) and forces continue to 'mass' across the border.

  • dutchnational

    Turks wanted the YPG, not the SDF in general, to go west. The invasion is already in trouble because of fights between arab and turkman extremists. Now some groups have withdrawn because of US participation in a drive on Dabiq. Western SDF is gearing up to attack the Aqil mountains which commands Al Bab while the easter SDF targets Qasabin, a kurdish city north of Al Bab. It will be an interesting next two months.

    September 17, 2016