Turkey Strikes Syrian Kurds as Earthquake Recovery Continues

OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday declared a three-month state of emergency in ten provinces due to Monday’s devastating earthquakes. The focus on reconstruction did not prevent Turkish forces from bombing Kurdish militia positions in Syria.

According to Turkey’s Defense Ministry, “YPG/PKK terrorists” used multi-barrel rocket launchers in the Tal Rifaat region to fire on a Turkish border outpost in Kilis province. There was no reported damage and no casualties, but Turkish forces launched a retaliatory strike on Tuesday.

The YPG is a Syrian Kurdish militia that was allied with Western forces during the war against the Islamic State. The PKK is a militant Kurdish separatist group in Turkey. The Turkish government considers the YPG and PKK to be one and the same, frequently accusing the more respectable YPG militia of providing cover for PKK activities in areas it controls. Turkey has launched several military incursions into Syria to push all Kurdish forces back from the border.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency blamed the United States and Russia for not doing enough to keep Syrian Kurdish militants at bay, so Turkey had to take care of business with “a trio of successful anti-terror operations across its border” in 2016, 2018, and 2019:

Türkiye made separate agreements with the US and Russia for the withdrawal of YPG/PKK elements, as the Turkish Armed Forces were carrying out Operation Peace Spring, which began Oct. 9, 2019 in northern Syria.

After pledging the withdrawal of the YPG/PKK terror group 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) south of the Turkish border in line with the agreements, the US and Russia have failed to keep their promises for two and a half years.

During a visit to Türkiye by then-US Vice President Mike Pence eight days into Operation Peace Spring, the US pledged that the terror group would withdraw 32 kilometers (20 miles) south from the border, but Washington has not fulfilled its commitment.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed in June that his forces would “clear Tal Rifaat and Manbij of terrorists,” and would “do the same to other regions step-by-step.”

“Let’s see who supports these legitimate steps by Turkey and who hinders them,” Erdogan said, throwing down the gauntlet before the United States, Europe, and NATO.

The Afrin Liberation Forces, a Kurdish militia group commonly known by their Kurdish acronym HRE, issued a statement on Tuesday denying that any YPG units are present in Tal Rifaat. The HRE said its own forces did not attack Turkish positions as Turkey claimed, in no small part because they were busy dealing with Monday’s massive earthquakes.

“On an almost daily basis, last night, on February 6, the Turkish occupation army bombed the Tal Rifaat area, although it was an area highly damaged by the earthquake,” the HRE charged.

“We confirm once again that [Turkey’s] statement is baseless and is misleading,” they said.


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