Fighting has erupted in northern Syria between two US allies on opposing sides of a Turkish military offensive — the now Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Rudaw, a Kurdish news outlet, reports:
Syrian opposition forces from Jarablus took four fighters as captives on Sunday, believed to be Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters. An earlier video obtained by Rudaw showed soldiers of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) beating and kicking YPG fighters taken captive in fighting, including child soldiers.
The Syrian rebels call the new captives ‘separatists.’ They said that, at the ‘request of the people in the villages south of Jarablus, we came today and liberated the villages from these separatists.’
‘Our first and last goal is the unity of Syria, and we want to cleanse Syria from these separatist groups, the [Bashar al] Assad regime and ISIS [Islamic State].”
Turkey has long considered YPG fighters to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a group that has been designated a terrorist group by both Ankara and Washington.
Nevertheless, the Obama administration maintains that the YPG is not a terrorist group.
The Long War Journal explains:
The [Turkish military] operation is nominally to protect the Turkish border from the Islamic State [ISIS/ISIL], however, it is also meant to push back the SDF. The most powerful group within the SDF is the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is the Syrian branch of the US-designated terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). When the SDF captured the town of Manbij with heavy US support, Turkey was prompted to hasten an intervention to prevent more Kurdish advances.
The US is now engaged in a balancing act between keeping close relations with Turkey and its main partner in the fight against the Islamic State.
In an email to The New York Times (NYT), Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said that the U.S. is “closely monitoring” the fight in northern Syria.
“We want to make clear that we find these clashes unacceptable,” he also said, adding, “This is an already crowded battle space. Accordingly, we are calling on all armed actors to stand down immediately and take appropriate measures to deconflict.”
The Long War Journal notes:
[T]his puts the US in an awkward position as the Kurds may see this, as well as tacit support of the Turkish intervention, as a betrayal. This also comes after US Vice President Joe Biden told the YPG portion of the SDF to retreat back to the eastern side of the Euphrates River, which was also likely seen as an insult by the US-ally.
Contradicting the U.S. Department of State and the White House, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has conceded that the YPG is linked to the communist terrorist group PKK. The YPG is the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) that controls large swathes of northern Syria.
Drawing condemnation from the Obama administration, the PYD declared the formation of an independent federal region in northern Syria earlier this year.