The Syrian Kurdish YPG/YPJ–or People’s Protection Units–issued a statement on Monday condemning Turkish airstrikes on strategic Kurdish posts. The Turkish government announced a new campaign, accompanied by the United States, against the Islamic State in Syria, but the Kurds and anti-Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS) Syrian militant claim they are the real targets of the campaign.
“The Turkish Army shelled the People’s Defense Units and the Free Syria Army’s positions in the village of Zormikhar in front of the terrorist-occupied town Jarabulus–using heavy tank fire,” the YPG has claimed in an official press release, where they also accuse the Turkish government of attacking the same village the next day (Monday). Multiple fighters of both the YPG and Free Syrian Army were injured; military vehicles also sustained damage.
“Instead of targeting IS terrorists’ occupied positions, Turkish forces attack our defenders positions,” the press release notes. “This is not the right attitude. We urge Turkish leadership to halt this aggression and to follow international guidelines. We are telling the Turkish Army to stop shooting at our fighters and their positions.”
In addition to the YPG statement, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group in the region, accused the Turkish military of attacking Kurdish forces. “A number of shells fired by Turkish tanks fell on the village of Zur Maghar, which is controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units,” a statement noted, with the group’s director Rami Abdel Rahman describing the incident as the most serious attempt by Turkey to attack Kurdish interests in Syria.
The Turkish government has flatly denied the accusations. “The ongoing military operation seeks to neutralise imminent threats to Turkey’s national security and continues to target Isis in Syria and the PKK in Iraq,” a spokesperson told AFP regarding the claim that they were attacking the YPG.
Turkey began an air campaign in Syria last week following a terrorist attack in Suruç, a border town across state lines from the Syrian town of Kobani. Turkey has been bombing both Islamic State and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in Syria. The PKK is a Marxist, U.S.-designated terrorist group considered an ally by the YPG but opposed by the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.
The bombings followed the news that Turkey would allow the United States to use an airbase within its borders to attack the Islamic State in Syria, a request America had made months prior that had been repeatedly denied. The two countries issued a statement that their kinetic actions would aim to create an “ISIL-free zone” in Syria to “ensure greater security and stability along Turkey’s border with Syria.”
The YPG and YPJ have been the most effective military organization in neutralizing the threat of the Islamic State in Syria, particularly given the near-complete collapse of the Syrian military. “There is a lack of human resources. … Everything is available [for the army], but there is a shortfall in human capacity,” said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a speech over the weekend, for the first time publicly admitting that thousands of his soldiers had defected or abandoned their posts in fear. In contrast, the Kurdish forces have been successful in keeping the Islamic State from cementing its foothold on the Turkish-Syrian border, most notably expelling ISIS from the border town of Kobani after a bloody months-long battle to secure the area.