Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday promised to expand his country’s incursion into Kurdish-controlled regions of northern Syria, dismissing the Trump administration’s pleas for restraint on the part of its NATO ally.
As Turkey’s air and ground offensive in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin stretched into its fifth day, Erdogan threatened to push on to nearby Manbij, about 60 miles to the east. That move would put Turkish forces in direct confrontation with U.S.-backed YPG militia and, potentially, American troops deployed there.
“With the Olive Branch operation, we have once again thwarted the game of those sneaky forces whose interests in the region are different,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara, referring to the ironically named anti-Kurd offensive.
“Starting in Manbij, we will continue to thwart their game,” he added.
Erdogan commenced artillery and air strikes against Kurdish militia in Afrin on Saturday, targeting YPG units located along the mountainous border between Turkey and Syria. Turkey considers the YPG — known as the People’s Defense Units — to be an arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish separatist group that both Washington and Ankara have designated as a terrorist organization.
YPG units are a key component of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, and figure prominently into the Trump administration’s plan to maintain a long-term presence in Syria to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State there. The plan has angered Turkey, which views an empowered Kurdish force on its southern flank as a grave national security threat.
Predominantly Kurdish SDF units ousted ISIS fighters from Manbij in 2016. Since then, Turkey has accused the U.S. of waffling on a promise to make sure the area reverted to Arab control.
To ward off a potential confrontation between NATO allies, President Donald Trump phoned Erdogan on Wednesday and urged the Turkish leader to wind down his offensive. Trump emphasized the need for Washington and Ankara to focus on finishing off the last of ISIS in Syria, according to White House officials.
Still, the Turkish campaign against Kurdish forces in Afrin showed no signs of waning as of Wednesday. International observers and Kurdish officials say airstrikes are still pummeling targets across the region, reports CBS News. An estimated 5,000 people have been displaced inside Afrin, and Kurdish forces are not allowing civilians to leave the area, according to the United Nations.
So far, Turkish ground forces have been slowed by stiff Kurdish resistance and Afrin’s difficult terrain. The delay has given U.S.-backed Syrian fighters in the Manbij time to prepare to meet a potential Turkish incursion, according to their spokesman Sharfan Darwish.
“We are in full readiness to respond to any attack,” he said Wednesday, according to Reuters.
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