Turkey in Talks with U.S., Russia to Clear Northern Syria of American-Allied Kurds

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

Turkey plans to coordinate with the American government and Russia its efforts to push the U.S.-allied Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), considered terrorists by Ankara, out of territory in northern Syria that lies along the Turkish border, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared Tuesday.

Turkey FM Cavusoglu explained that Ankara is trying to coordinate a plan with both Washington and Moscow to prevent the YPG from filling the void in northern Syria after the imminent withdrawal of American troops from the region.

“We will never hesitate in eliminating terrorists from our border even though the YPG agreed with the Syrian regime and they will control the area together. Our duty is to eliminate this threat on our national security by whomever this terrorist organization is being controlled,” the FM proclaimed, according to Hurriyet Daily News.

Turkey and some U.S. officials consider the YPG and its allies to be an extension of the PKK, which both Washington and Ankara have designated as a terrorist organization.

“We should be in coordination with the U.S. in order not to allow terror organizations to benefit from any potential vacuum after the [American military] withdrawal. We should also coordinate with other actors in Syria [namely Russia] – except for the regime,” the foreign minister added.

With the help of the United States, YPG fighters, the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has maintained control of nearly a third of Syria east of the Euphrates river, in the northeastern part of the country.

Turkey warned the Iranian and Russian-backed regime of Bashar al-Assad against lending support to the Syrian Kurds.

“These are issues we follow closely. Would the Syrian regime enter the east of Euphrates, would they dare do so and whether they are in talks with YPG are issues that need to be confirmed as we follow closely,” Cavusoglu said.

Cavusoglu reportedly singled out Russia as a vital actor in Syria, informing reporters about his scheduled visit to Moscow to discuss all recent developments in the war-torn country.

“It’s very important for us to make assessments on the developments with them. I will pay a visit to Moscow in the coming days and will exchange views. It’s very healthy that we hold these talks,” he emphasized.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed on Tuesday that he is planning a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the foreign minister’s trip to Moscow.

Although Assad and Turkey have been on opposite sides of the war in Syria, U.S. support for the Kurds has angered America’s NATO ally Ankara and pushed it closer to Russia.

Soon after the Trump administration announced its Syria withdrawal plans last week, the YPG reached out to Russia and Assad for help in repelling the Turkish attack promised by Erdogan.

On Tuesday, Reuters noted:

Syrian government troops backed by Russian forces have sent extra troops toward the [Kurdish-held] city of Manbij [in northern Syria] in coordination with the [U.S.-backed Kurdish] militia that controls it, a militia spokesman said, as Turkish-backed Syrian rebels said they were preparing to attack it. The deployment was coordinated with the U.S.-backed [Kurdish] militia in Manbij, the spokesman for the Manbij Military Council said. It is part of the wider buildup of forces in the area.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who have been fighting the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) with the support of the U.S.-led coalition, gained control of Manbij after they pushed the jihadi group out of the area. The YPG leads and makes up the majority of the SDF.

In June, the Trump administration and Turkey reached an agreement to clear Manbij of the YPG, but Ankara has repeatedly accused the U.S. of delaying the move.

Turkish and U.S. troops began joint patrols in the town in November.

Turkey is intent on crossing to the Kurdish-held territory east of the Euphrates river in northern Syria as soon as possible, Cavusoglu declared Tuesday.

“The battle will soon start,” Major Youssef Hamoud, spokesman for the National Army, the main Turkish-backed Syrian opposition force near Manbij, told Reuters. “What we see on the front now is reinforcements to all forces to reach full preparedness for the battle.”

Erdogan did delay Turkey’s operation into northern Syria after the U.S. revealed its plans to pull out of the war-ravaged country.

“We are in the waiting process with regard to this operation after the withdrawal decision. We will have a working group meeting with the U.S. on Syria on Jan. 8. Talks between the two militaries are also underway. We are therefore in a waiting process but we are in talks about its timing,” Cavusoglu noted Tuesday.

Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration announced plans to pull out the 2,000 American troops from Syria, handing the fight against ISIS to Turkey and effectively giving Ankara the green light to attack the YPG.

Echoing Erdogan, the Turkish foreign minister vowed to eliminate the remnants of ISIS in Syria.

“We can do this no matter where in Syria. It’s a fact that all Muslim countries, Gulf countries, Western countries, Russia have the same view on ISIL. Therefore we can cooperate with everybody except for terror organizations and the Syrian regime in the fight against ISIL,” he said. “But Turkey has the will and power to clear Syria of ISIL alone as well.”

In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal announcement, Syrian Kurds accused the Trump administration of betraying them, warning that the move leaves them vulnerable to attacks by Turkey and would lead to an ISIS resurgence.


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