Turkey has attempted to secretly communicate with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to retrieve hundreds of killed Turkish soldiers as clashes between the Turks and Kurds continue in northern Syria’s Afrin region, reports the Kurdish outlet Bas News.
Redur Khalil, the SDF chief of foreign relations, reportedly told Voice of America (VOA) that “the Turkish officials are adapting to different methods to communicate with SDF in order to receive the bodies of their killed soldiers.”
Khalil also indicated that Turkey-backed Syrian armed groups “continuously surrender to us.”
Before the Afrin offensive began this month, the Turkey-allied Free Syrian Army (FSA) claimed it would not participate in the operation.
However, the Turkish state-owned Anadolu Agency (AA) reports, “Turkish Armed Forces and Free Syrian Army (FSA) units cleared two villages in western Afrin of [Kurdish] terrorists following an operation launched in Raju district on Tuesday [January 30] morning.”
While the Turkish government claimed that Kurdish fighters had killed five of its soldiers and wounded another 41 as of Sunday, Bas News quotes an official from Afrin as saying, “At least 310 Turkish fighters were killed so far.”
Dubbed the “Olive Branch Operation,” the Afrin offensive has been raging since January 20.
Although the U.S.-led coalition has supported the SDF in its mutual fight against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Syria, the Pentagon claims the alliance has nothing to do with Kurdish troops fighting America’s NATO ally Turkey in Afrin.
In a statement to Hurriyet Daily News, U.S. Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said on January 30:
We are fully engaged in working with our Turkish ally to de-escalate tensions along the Turkish-Syrian border and to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS.
We are closely monitoring the situation in northwest Syria. Turkey clearly has legitimate concerns and they have a need for secure borders. We believe the presence of U.S. forces is helping to calm the talk about violence which could de-stabilize the situation during what is a critical time for the local population to be able to establish security against any resurgence of ISIS or of terrorist ideology.
Our partnership with the SDF is limited in scope to operations to defeat ISIS. Kurdish forces that are engaged with Turkish forces near the Afrin region do not have any affiliation with the global coalition whatsoever.
However, the United States has also condemned Turkish shelling of Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria.
“We do not believe that a military operation, whether in Afrin or directly against the self-defense Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the north or northeast of Syria, serves the cause of regional stability, Syrian stability or indeed Turkish concerns about the security of their border,” said an unnamed State Department official, without elaborating further, reports VOA.
The SDF is an Arab-Kurdish alliance made up primarily of YPG fighters, the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that controls large parts of northern Syria.
U.S. support for the Syrian Kurds has strained the U.S.-Turkey relations.
Turkey considers the YPG and PYD to affiliates of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which both Ankara and Washington have designated a terrorist organization.
Despite Turkey’s concerns about the Syrian Kurds’ affiliation with terrorists, the United States has continued to provide them with military support.