Kurds in Syria call for U.S. help as Turkey threatens ground assault

Explanation

BAGHDAD – A US-backed enclave in Syria is bracing for an attack by Turkish forces, as the region’s top commander urged Washington to prevent a ground attack that Biden administration officials say would risk a rift with NATO ally Turkey and threatens the revival of the Islamic State, do more. in Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s forces have carried out at least 100 airstrikes, drones and artillery strikes on towns and cities in northeastern Syria over the past four days, according to US officials. According to the Syrian Democratic Forces, US-backed forces killed 18 civilians and three soldiers in the area.

The attacks have sent waves of fear into a region that is no stranger to threats from its neighbor. Turkey, which has been at war with its own minority Kurdish militia for decades, is looking at the SDF, which is dominated by Syrian Kurds., as a threat to its national security. Turkish forces last attacked the enclave in 2019, after what Erdogan saw as a green light from President Donald Trump.

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Erdogan is threatening to repeat the attack with fresh ground forces, in retaliation for an attack he carried out in central Istanbul last week that killed six people and injured dozens more. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, Erdogan blamed the SDF for the attack.

“Those who condemn the attack in Istanbul with crocodile tears have revealed their true colors by reacting to the operation we immediately launched,” Erdogan said in a speech to members of his party gathered in Ankara. “We have a right to take care of ourselves.”

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The SDF and other Kurdish organizations have denied responsibility for the Istanbul attack.

The US-led military coalition joined the fight against the Islamic State forces in 2014 after an attack by the Islamic State group. They captured 41,000 square kilometers across Iraq and Syria. In Syria, the United States quickly chose Kurdish-led forces as its ally. Three and a half years after the fighters ousted and Trump partially withdrawing US forces, hundreds of American troops remain in the territory now under threat of attack, in support of SDF units that are still fighting the remnants of the militants.

In an interview with the Washington Post, General Mazloum Kobani Abdi, the SDP’s top commander and Washington’s strongest ally in Syria, called on Western allies to resolutely resist further Turkish attacks, stressing that Western pressure could result from ground operations. to prevent

“No one knows that Erdogan has been threatening ground operations for months, but he can start this operation now,” Abdi said. “This war, if it happens, will not benefit anyone. It affects many lives. There will be massive waves of displacement and a humanitarian crisis.”

Press Secretary of the Pentagon, Air Force Brigade. General Patrick Ryder said in a statement, “the recent airstrikes in Syria have directly threatened the security of US personnel working with local partners in Syria to defeat ISIS and hold more than ten thousand ISIS prisoners.” … Immediate de-escalation is necessary to maintain focus on the mission of defeating ISIS and to ensure the safety and security of personnel on the ground committed to the mission of defeating ISIS.”

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Violence haunts the United States. Its decision nearly a decade ago to back Kurdish-led ground forces in the fight against Islamic State put it at odds with NATO ally Turkey, and the two have struggled to balance their commitments ever since. The war in Ukraine has further complicated the situation, analysts say, as Washington backs Ankara to join Sweden and Finland in NATO, isolates Russia economically and secures a deal that allows Ukrainian grain exports to bolster global food supplies. to give

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Jonathan Lord, director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security and a former U.S. researcher, said: “Making Ukraine a higher priority means finding ways to keep Ankara at bay as the U.S.-Turkey relationship has become more complicated over time.” member of the Armed Forces Committee of the House of Representatives. “There is likely a lack of appetite for Erdogan’s meaningful engagement in Syria, which often provokes an emotional response from the Turkish side, especially if it puts Washington’s goals in Europe at greater risk.”

So far, the Biden administration has carefully avoided looking at the endorsement. Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon’s deputy spokeswoman, told reporters on Tuesday that “what we have said very clearly is that these attacks on all fronts jeopardize our mission, which is to defeat ISIS.”

Public criticism of Ankara would serve no useful purpose at this point, according to several US administration and military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic.

But one official said, “we have been exceptionally clear in our private diplomatic communications with Ankara about the dangers of this operation.” “They are dangerous, they are destabilizing, and they have the potential to endanger our employees as well. We have not given anyone a green light to carry out such a destructive operation.”

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Central Command spokesman Col. Joe Buccino said one of Tuesday’s attacks by Turkey came within 130 meters of US troops, who often share bases with SDF personnel.

Turkey has few friends in Congress and a number of powerful critics, many of whom see the attack on the US-allied SDF as provoking direct consequences for Ankara. This pressure will likely increase exponentially if any US military personnel are injured in the attacks.

At the same time, the SDF’s waning interest in the occasional but ongoing fight against the Islamic State could contribute to a resurgence of the militants. On Wednesday night, the SDF said it would temporarily suspend operations against Daesh to focus on Turkey.

Turkey threatened a new ground attack on Syria earlier this year, but never carried it out, instead resorting to selective strikes in northern Syria. Analysts have seen the threat as part of election-year politics, with Erdogan facing a potentially tough re-election campaign early next year, hoping to rally nationalist voters.

U.S. officials said they have yet to see any signs that Turkey is mobilizing for a ground attack, unlike in 2019, when Turkish forces and equipment were massed along the Syrian border.

In a tweet, SDF spokesman Farhad Shami retweeted Biden’s 2019 message, accusing Trump of abandoning US-backed forces. “The same thing is happening today under your presidency,” Shami wrote. “Our people and forces have the right to know your position on the Turkish aggression against our people.”

DeYoung reported from Washington. Mustafa al-Ali in Koban, Syria; Karun Demirjian in Washington; and Karim Fahim in Doha, Qatar contributed to this report.

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