Defense

These Two US Allies Have Turned On Each Other Instead Of Fighting ISIS

REUTERS/Rodi Said

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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U.S. forces provided air support and military advisers to Turkey’s surprise invasion of Syria Wednesday, but doing so has put U.S. leaders in the middle of a potential war between Turkish forces and U.S.-backed Kurds.

While Turkey engaged in the assault on the Syrian border city of Jarablus under the auspices of self-defense against ISIS, it has become clear it had a second goal of preventing the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from seizing the city before Turkey’s Syrian allies could. The two sides reportedly began firing on each other near the nearby town of Manbij Thursday, after Turkey claimed it had intelligence Kurdish forces were advancing on Jarablus.

Turkey has a long and bloody history with its own Kurdish minority, as well as Kurds in foreign countries. Allowing a Kurdish group like the YPG, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization, to control most of its southern border with Syria would be unacceptable from Turkey’s standpoint. The U.S. actively supports the YPG in their fight against ISIS, but by backing the Turkish assault, it may have helped enable a spat between two of its key allies.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made his country’s intentions toward the YPG clear shortly after the assault, codenamed Operation Euphrates Shield, began Wednesday.

“YPG elements must immediately move to the east of Euphrates [river]. Otherwise Turkey will take necessary measures,” said Cavusoglu over Twitter.

Despite the thinly veiled threat, YPG spokesman Redur Xelil said his forces will not retreat east of the river just because Turkey demands it, noting only the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) could issue such an order. He went on to refer to the Turkish operation as a “blatant aggression in Syrian internal affairs.”

Initial reports claim that some SDF forces retreated back east of the Euphrates, but it is clear some YPG forces did not abide by promise, despite a guarantee from U.S. Secretary of State Kerry.

“The United States encourages all parties to focus their efforts on ISIL (ISIS), and we are working with our Turkish allies and our partnered forces in Syria to ensure that ISIL remains everyone’s focus,” a Department of Defense official told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Jarablus sits at an important juncture with Turkey to the north and the Euphrates river to the east. Its strategic location makes it quite the prize for all parties involved in the Syrian conflict.

The YPG makes up a crucial element of the SDF, a conglomeration of Syrian militia groups fighting ISIS actively supported by U.S. air power. U.S. support of the YPG has always been a point of contention for Turkey, but until recently, the U.S. has been able to strike a balance between the two groups in the fight against ISIS.

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