As the Turkish military continues to strike U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish targets near the Euphrates River, the White House has confirmed that President Barack Obama will discuss the situation with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Group of 20 summit in China next week.
The meeting will take place on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting, according to CNN, and will mainly revolve around Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield, which Ankara claims is intended to keep the Islamic State from expanding westward towards Turkey.
President Obama may also be meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who has been working to repair the damaged diplomatic relationship between Russia and Turkey and convince Turkey to accept dictator Bashar al-Assad as the only alternative to the Islamic State in Syria. Russian officials have said they are open to the meeting but the logistics of it have yet to be settled.
While Ankara insists that Operation Euphrates Shield is meant to target Islamic State jihadis, it has so far mostly consisted of attacks on the Syrian People’s Protection Units (YPG and YPJ), who have been among the most successful militias in combatting the Islamic State on the ground. Turkish airstrikes in the Jarablus/Manbij region began on Sunday.
The Turkish government considers the YPG and its political counterpart, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a wing of the greater Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist group. The U.S. does not consider the PKK and the YPG/YPJ to be the same entity and has supported PYD operations in Syria. It has not supported the PKK in Iraq, however, where the group has conducted attacks on the Islamic State and is largely credited for the liberation of northern Sinjar, home to a large population of the nation’s Yazidi minority.
Major military operations between the Turkish military and the Syrian Kurds may benefit the Islamic State, as the Kurdish militias have successfully protected much of Syrian Kurdistan, known locally as Rojava, from Islamic State capture, while the Turkish government will be using its force to weaken not the Islamic State, but one of its main rivals. The Turkish military is also reportedly aiding the Arab Free Syrian Army, which has exhausted much of its effort in fighting the Kurds.
The Obama-Erdogan meeting will follow a similar exchange between the head of state and Vice President Joe Biden last week. In that meeting, Biden emphasized that “Turkey has the United States’ unwavering support” and endorsed the Turkish demand for Kurdish troops to keep east of the Euphrates or risk losing American support.
According to multiple reports, including those from the U.S. government, the YPG has complied. YPG spokesman Ibrahim Ibrahim confirmed Monday that the militia had moved east, and the Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency confirmed that Jarablus, on the banks of the river, was “liberated” from Kurdish control.
Turkish airstrikes have continued on YPG targets, however.
The U.S. has since changed its tune, warning Turkey to refrain from attacking the U.S.-allied militias so long as they fulfill their promise to stay east of the Euphrates. “We have called upon Turkey to stay focused on the fight against ISIL and not to engage,” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said Monday. The State Department has echoed this sentiment. “We do not support Turkish forces moving south of Jarablus and engaging with SDF, and SDF should not engage Turkey in return,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said.
As of Tuesday morning, the Kurdish outlet Rudaw is reporting that the YPG and the Turkish military have agreed upon a temporary truce as they both attack Islamic State targets. “In the last several hours, we have received assurance that all parties involved are going to stop shooting at each other and focus on the ISIL [ISIS, Islamic State] threat,” U.S. CENTCOM spokesman Colonel John Thomas confirmed.
American warplanes have continued to target the Islamic State near Jarablus — to the benefit of both the Turks and the Kurds — into Tuesday.