Erdogan Warns Syria Offensive Will Resume Unless Kurds Complete Pull Out

Ankara, Turkey: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday threatened to resume Turkey's military offensive in Syria "with greater determination" unless the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters is completed under a US-brokered deal.

"If the promises given to our country by the United States are not kept, we will continue our operation from where we left off with greater determination," Erdogan told reporters before departing for talks with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Following a deal with US Vice President Mike Pence last week, Turkey announced a 120-hour suspension of the offensive from last Thursday under which Kurdish fighters were to withdraw to allow a "safe zone" to be set up along the border.

Erdogan was to meet with Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi later Tuesday as the end of the 120-hour deadline approaches.

"We will have the opportunity to discuss steps to end (Kurdish fighters') presence in regime-held areas," the Turkish leader said.

Erdogan last week said he was not bothered by the Damascus regime's presence in several regions along the Turkish border.

Erdogan also firmly rejected a call by French President Emmanuel Macron to extend the ceasefire.

"There is no such proposal that was conveyed to me from Macron. Macron is in fact talking about such things mostly with terrorists," Erdogan said, referring to a meeting between Jihane Ahmed, the spokeswoman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and the French leader.

"He preferred to communicate the terrorists' offer to us. France is not our interlocutor," Erdogan said, adding that Turkey was in touch with the United States over Syria.

Macron on Monday told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that France wanted to see an extension of the ceasefire by Turkey in northeast Syria, the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

"The president underscored the importance of prolonging the current ceasefire, and of ending the crisis by diplomatic means," the presidency said after a phone call between the two leaders.

Ankara says the YPG is a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara, the US and the EU.

Erdogan also confirmed the withdrawal of some Kurdish fighters from the proposed safe zone he wants to extend from Jarabulus in northwestern Syria up to the Iraqi border.

"Around 700-800 have withdrawn so far," Erdogan said, adding that the remaining 1,200-1,300 would reportedly also be pulling out.

"We are pursuing it. The process will not be over without a full withdrawal," he warned.

Erdogan also expressed his unease with some Iranian opposition to the Turkish offensive in Syria, adding that Russian President Hassan Rouhani "should have silenced those voices".

"This bothers me and my colleagues," Erdogan said.

Referring to a planned meeting with Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Erdogan said it could take place before or after the NATO summit on December 3-4 near London.

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Syria’s Kurds strike deal with Assad after being abandoned by US

Kurdish-led forces in Syria have struck a deal with Bashar al-Assad’s government to hand over areas along the border to the Syrian army in a last ditch effort to halt a Turkish attack.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, one of the west’s key allies in the fight against Isis, said the army would deploy along the border with Turkey “to repel this aggression and liberate the areas entered by the Turkish army and its hired mercenaries”.

The deal was struck in response to a wide-scale military operation launched by Turkey against the SDF last week, which has killed more than 60 civilians and sparked fears of ethnic cleansing.

Turkey’s armed forces and allied Syrian rebels have made rapid gains in the past week, taking control of two cities along the border and threatening to advance further. General Mazloum Kobani Abdi, commander of the SDF, described the operation as an “existential threat” to Syria’s Kurds.

The agreement could spell the end of a years-long experiment in autonomy led by Syria’s Kurds, and marks a major shift in alliances for the embattled community.

Turkey has long threatened to attack the SDF, which it considers a terror organisation for its links to a Kurdish separatist group that has fought the Turkish state for decades. Ankara said its military operation was launched to implement a “safe zone” along its border with Syria, free of SDF fighters.

But the SDF – a mostly Kurdish militia with a smaller Arab contingent – has been a key ally of the US in the fight against Isis. The presence of US troops in Syria alongside the group had acted as a deterrence for a Turkish assault. That changed quickly last week when Donald Trump made a shock announcement that the US would not stand in the way of Turkey’s plans to enter Syria. The SDF described the abrupt shift as a “stab in the back”.

The deal will see the Syrian army deployed along a large stretch of the Turkey-Syria border, the SDF said, in an effort to deter any further Turkish incursion.

The agreement brings its own dangers, however. For decades, Kurds in Syria have faced repression and discrimination at the hands of the government. Although the civil war had caused great upheaval for the community, it has also allowed them to win new freedoms, which may now be lost again.

yria’s Kurds took over control of majority Kurdish areas from the government shortly after the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011, but largely refrained from directly fighting it.

In the time since, it extended that area of control beyond Kurdish areas as it recaptured territory held by Isis.

Over the past few years it has built an alternative form of governance in the areas under its control, with the eventual aim of creating an autonomous administration that would outlast the war.

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Turkey Begins Operation Against Kurdish Forces in Syria

“Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” Erdogan said on Twitter. “We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Wednesday that the Turkish Army and its Syrian rebel allies have launched their military operation into northeastern Syria.

RELATED: Turkey Pledge to Pursue Military Plans in Syria Despite US Threats

Erdogan said the offensive, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring”, would aim to eliminate threats from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and the Islamic State militants, and enable the return of Syrian refugees in Turkey after the formation of a “safe zone” in the area.

“Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” Erdogan said on Twitter. “We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Turkish warplanes struck its region in the northeast, sparking “huge panic among people” on Wednesday.

“Turkish warplanes have started to carry out air strikes on civilian areas,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter.

Syrian state media and a Kurdish official separately said bombing hit the town of Ras al-Ain in the northeast along the Turkish border.

Ras al-Ain is one of the largest cities in Syria's Al-Hasakah province; it has been under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces and their allies from the People's Protection Units (YPG) since 2012.

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Trump says US not abandoning Kurds, again threatens ‘partner’ Turkey with economic devastation

The withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria does not amount to abandoning the Kurds, Donald Trump said in the wake of criticism at home. He claims Turkey faces devastation if there is ‘unnecessary fighting’ against them.

Trump took to Twitter to justify his decision to pull US troops back from their positions on the Syrian border with Turkey, which potentially exposes Kurdish militias to an attack by the Turkish military. Contrary to what many critics of the move say, the US has “in no way… Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters,” the US leader said.

While we only had 50 soldiers remaining in that section of Syria, and they have been removed, any unforced or unnecessary fighting by Turkey will be devastating to their economy and to their very fragile currency,” Trump tweeted, doubling down on Monday’s threat to destroy the Turkish economy, if the country wages war against Syria’s Kurds.

Also on rt.com Trump threatens to OBLITERATE Turkey’s economy if it does ‘anything off limits’....

Kurdish militias played a key role in fighting terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in northeastern Syria, with the US providing air support, weapons, and training. The empowerment of the Kurdish forces alarmed Ankara, which considers them terrorists and an extension of Turkey’s domestic Kurdish guerrillas. Trump announced his surprise decision to pull US troops back from the border just as Turkey was amassing its forces there for what appears to be preparation for a massive anti-Kurdish operation in Syria. Ankara wants to create a so-called “safe zone” along the border, where Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey would be relocated.

The US President also said the Turks “have also been good to deal with, helping me to save many lives at Idlib Province,” the last remaining hotbed of jihadism in Syria. The area in northern Syria was insulated from a military offensive by Russia-backed Syrian government forces at Ankara’s request. Turkey feared such an operation would cause another massive influx of refugees into its territory.

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Turkey warns US against arming Syrian Kurd ‘terrorists,’ ponders end of ‘strategic partnership’

Ankara expressed disappointment with the US decision to send heavy weapons to Kurdish militants, while the Kurds praised Washington’s decision as a “historic” move that greatly expands the group’s capabilities to “fight terrorism.”

The Turkish government has asked the US to reverse its decision to broaden support for Syria’s Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (YPG), stating that it is unacceptable for a NATO ally to support “terrorist groups.”

 

Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) head a convoy of U.S military vehicles in the town of Darbasiya next to the Turkish border, Syria April 28, 2017. © Reuters

The decision to supply arms to Kurds would have “consequences” and a potentially “negative result” for Washington, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned on Wednesday.

“We cannot imagine [the US] making a choice between our strategic-level partnership and a terrorist organization,” Yildirim said, as quoted by the Sabah daily. “The US administration still has a chance to consider Turkey's sensitivities of highest level on the PKK. If the decision is taken otherwise, this will surely have consequences and will yield a negative result for the US as well.”

Every weapon given to the YPG represents a threat to Turkey, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavushoglu told reporters on Wednesday.

“If we support the territorial integrity of Syria, we should take lessons from the mistakes we made in Iraq and abstain from making any wrong moves. YPG and PKK are the same entity, there’s no difference between them,” Cavushoglu said, according to NTV broadcaster. “Every weapon which gets into their hands represents a threat to Turkey.”

“We cannot accept the presence of terrorist organizations that would threaten the future of the Turkish state,” Turkish Deputy PM Nurettin Canikli told broadcaster A Haber on Wednesday. “We hope the US will put a stop to this wrong and back down from it. This policy will not be beneficial to anyone; you can’t be in the same sack as terrorist organizations.”

While the YPG is a US ally in Syria, Ankara perceives it as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist group in both Turkey and the US. 

As the decision to supply heavier weapons was announced, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that the US “reassures the people and the government of Turkey that the US is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally.”

 

Damaged vehicles that belonged to Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) are transported from their headquarters after it was hit by Turkish airstrikes in Mount Karachok near Malikiya, Syria April 25, 2017. © Rodi Said

 

The US responded to the comments by the senior Turkish officials, with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promising to “work out” concerns over arming the YPG fighters.

“We will work very closely with Turkey in support of their security on their southern border. It's Europe's southern border, and we’ll stay closely connected,” Mattis said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

The YPG militia praised the US’ decision, stating that it would boost the group’s capability to “fight terrorism.”

“We believe that from now on and after this historic decision, (the YPG) will play a stronger, more influential and more decisive role in combating terrorism at a fast pace,” Reuters cited YPG spokesman Redur Xelil as saying in a written statement.

The decision to supply weapons to YPG militia came amid recent tensions between the US and Turkey after Ankara’s strikes on Kurdish-held areas in Syria and Iraq late in April. The aerial bombing and artillery shelling killed a number of YPG militants and Iraqi Peshmerga fighters. Several civilians also perished in the strikes on Syria, according to the militia groups’ statements. Turkey, however, claimed that it had targeted solely PKK “terrorists.” Iraqi Kurds acknowledged a PKK presence in the targeted areas, but the YPG did not.

After the incident US troops arrived to the targeted locations to inspect the damage The demonstration of American military presence in the region met a harsh reaction in Ankara.

President Erdogan’s senior aide Ilnur Cevik said the US forces in Syria could be “accidentally” hit by Turkish strikes, as their presence wouldn’t shield “PKK terrorists” from Turkey’s forces.

Cevik, however, later somewhat softened his stance, stating that “has never and will never hit its allies anywhere and that includes the US in Syria,” while adding that “no one should allow our US allies to become a shield for them.” 

Erdogan threatens more strikes on US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria

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Why Now? Turkey's Decision to Stop Euphrates Shield Op Raises Questions

After Ankara suddenly announced that its Euphrates Shield Operation was successfully completed the question on everyone's lips was: "Why now?" Yet another question is whether or not the Turkish government will kick off a new operation on Syrian soil.

On Wednesday Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced that Ankara's Euphrates Shield Operation came to an end.

"Operation Euphrates Shield has been successful and is finished. Any operation following this one will have a different name," Yildirim told NTV broadcaster.

A Turkish soldier on armoured military vehicle patrols the border between Turkey and Syria, near the southeastern village of Besarslan, in Hatay province, Turkey, November 1, 2016

The operation was kicked off August 24 to clear the Syrian border town of Jarabulus and the surrounding area from Daesh (ISIS/ISIL). In addition, Ankara's maneuvers were aimed against the emergence of an independent Kurdish entity in northern Syria.

"It was noted that the Operation 'Euphrates Shield' which was started with the goal of ensuring national security, preventing the threat from Daesh and return of Syrian refugees to their homes has successfully completed," a statement by the Turkish National Security Council read.

Meanwhile, the question remains: "Why now?"

Speaking to Russian media outlet RBC, Ilshat Sayetov, a researcher with the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), suggested that the major goal of the operation was to capture Manbij and to prevent the Syrian Kurds from maintaining control over the Syrian-Turkish border.

However, while Ankara had managed to throw a wrench into the Syrian Kurds' works, it failed to take Manbij under its control, he noted.

This Tuesday, March 7, 2017 frame grab from video provided by Arab 24 network, shows U.S. forces patrol on the outskirts of the Syrian town, Manbij, a flashpoint between Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters and U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters, in al-Asaliyah village, Aleppo province, Syria

Indeed, in early March Turkey and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) nearly clashed in Manbij. Fortunately, Moscow stepped in and prevented the conflict by brokering a deal between the Turks, the Kurds and Damascus.

As a result, the Manbij Military Council handed control of several areas west of the city of Manbij to the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), as part of a Moscow-brokered deal to create a buffer zone between the Kurds and the Turkish armed forces.

Ankara accepted the deal and signaled that it by no means opposed the establishment of the SAA's control over the northern Syrian city of Manbij.

Commenting on the matter, Ünal Çeviköz of Hurriyet.com explained that Turkey risked prompting Washington's wrath by attacking the Kurdish militia, which is regarded by the Pentagon as a US ally on the ground in the fight against Daesh.

A Turkish soldier uses binoculars to check the Syrian border near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province, on October 4, 2014

Çeviköz highlighted that Turkey needed to seize Manbij to launch an offensive on Daesh's stronghold in Raqqa.

With the operation stalled, Recep Tayyip Erdogan had found himself in an embarrassing position, Sayetov noted. The truth of the matter is that Ankara is going to hold a referendum on constitutional amendments April 16. The amendments envisage Turkey's transformation into a presidential republic.

In light of this, the only way out for the Turkish government to save its face ahead of the vote was to officially halt the operation, Sayetov explained.

For his part, Volkan Ozdemir, director of the Institute for Energy Markets and Policies, suggested that Ankara is no longer able to pursue its goals in Syria as it contradicts the policies of two global players, Russia and the United States, in the region.

Both Moscow and Washington are unlikely to allow Turkey to continue to crack down against the Syrian Kurds, he assumed.

"But this does not mean that Ankara will abandon its plans to clear Syria from Kurdish terrorists in the long run," Ozdemir told RBC.

Ankara considers the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) as an affiliate to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) designated as a terrorist organization in Turkey.

So, is it possible that Ankara will kick off Euphrates Shield 2.0?

According to former Turkish special forces operative Abdullah Agar, this option is on the table.

"Turkey has been unable to achieve all of its goals as part of Operation Euphrates Shield since the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the People's Protection Units (YPG) received support in the region," Agar told Sputnik Turkey.

Agar explained that the Turkish military failed to complete their mission in Manbij and Tell Rifaat.

"Taking this into account, Turkey is likely to come up with a series of new initiatives with regard to ensuring its national security, strengthening its unitary state and fighting terrorism," the security analyst predicted.

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Caught on camera: US Special Forces on ISIS frontline in Syria

US Special Forces operatives have been photographed fighting alongside the Kurdish militia in northern Syria in a drive against the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa. The Pentagon insists the Americans are there in “advise and assist” capacity only, however.
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