Beirut (AFP) – The US-led coalition against the Islamic State group said Thursday it was working to “de-escalate” fighting between Turkey and a Kurdish-led alliance battling the jihadists in Syria.
“We have been in communication (with) both Turkey and the SDF to de-escalate the situation,” spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan said on Twitter, referring to the Syrian Democratic Forces.
The move came a day after the US-backed alliance, with a mix of Kurdish and Arab fighters, suspended an offensive against IS in eastern Syria after Turkey shelled its positions.
The US State Department had quickly expressed its “concern” over the attack targeting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which form the backbone of the SDF.
The YPG has worked closely with the United States in the fight against IS jihadists in Syria, straining ties between NATO allies Washington and Ankara.
The Turkish government sees the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly insurgency in Turkey since 1984.
The PKK is designated as a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies.
On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was ready to launch a new offensive against the YPG, reflecting growing concern in Ankara over the group’s entrenched presence across the border.
After Wednesday’s shelling, the SDF warned of “a prolonged halt to our military operation” against IS if Ankara kept up its strikes.
SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel told AFP on Thursday that anti-IS operations in Syria were “temporarily suspended” but that the alliance’s forces were still holding their positions in the area.
“Offensive operations have been halted, defensive operations continue. Our forces are consolidating their positions defensively,” he said.
Backed by coalition air strikes, the SDF launched a campaign on September 10 to expel IS from a holdout near the Iraqi border.
The animosity between Syria’s Kurds and Turkey underlines the complexity of the multi-front Syrian conflict.
The war has cost over 360,000 lives since it broke out in 2011 with anti-government protests that were violently suppressed by the regime.