US-Turkish discord over the Turkish army’s onslaught on the Kurds of northern Syria reached a new low Wednesday, Aug. 30, when the presidential palace spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in Ankara: “The US must revise its policy of supporting Kurdish forces.”
The demand came after a senior US official called on “all the armed actors in the fight against the Islamic State in northern Syria to stand down,” in an effort to contain the new conflict dragging northern Syria into further chaos.
The call was addressed equally to Ankara to freeze its military operations in Syria and to the Kurdish PYD-YPG militia to halt the flow of fraternal reinforcements for defending Mabij, the Syrian town the militia wrested from ISIS earlier this month with US assistance.
debkafile’s military sources report that the Turkish army and Kurdish forces are already tensely aligned for a decisive battle over Manbij that will determine the outcome of the Turkish invasion of Aug. 24. President Tayyip Erdogan calculates that a Turkish victory will force the Kurds to retreat to the eastern bank of the Euphrates and away from the Turkish border, while Kurdish leaders are determined to halt the Turkish army at the gates of the town, and so brand the invasion a fiasco and carry off an epic victory.
The Obama administration is making a huge effort to avert this confrontation. In the hope of reining in the Turks, Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Ankara on the day their army crossed the Syrian border and met them halfway by issuing an ultimatum to the Kurds to withdraw to east of the Euphrates or else lose US support.
Unheeding of the US warning, the Kurds went forward to build up their fighting strength and engage the Turkish army.
Ankara suspects that the Americans are continuing notwithstanding to give the Kurds weapons and assistance on the quiet
Washington fears that a Turkish-Kurdish showdown in Manbij will further destabilize the military situation such as it is in northern Syria and northern Iraq, and all their efforts to persuade the Kurds to lead the ground forces of the coalition offensives against ISIS will go for nothing.
In an earlier report on Monday, debkafile covered the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds as it unfolded after the Turkish invasion.
An all-out Turkish-Kurdish war has boiled over in northern Syria since the Turkish army crossed the border last Wednesday, Aug. 24 for the avowed aim of fighting the Islamic State and pushing the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia back. Instead of falling back, the Kurds went on the offensive and are taking a hammering. This raging confrontation has stalled the US-led coalition offensive against ISIS and put on indefinite hold any US plans for campaigns to drive the jihadists out of their Syrian and Iraqi capitals of Raqqa and Mosul.
The Kurdish militia ground troops, who were backed by the US and assigned the star role in these campaigns, are now fully engaged in fighting Turkey. And, in another radical turnaround, Iraqi Kurdish leaders (of the Kurdish Regional Republic) have responded by welcoming Iran to their capital, in retaliation for the US decision to join forces with Turkey at the expense of Kurdish aspirations.
The KRG’s Peshmerga are moreover pitching in to fight with their Syrian brothers. Together, they plan to expel American presence and influence from both northern Syria and northern Iraq in response to what they perceive as a US sellout of the Kurds.
debkafile’s military analysts trace the evolving steps of this escalating complication of the Syrian war and its wider impact:
- Since cleansing Jarablus of ISIS, Turkey has thrown large, additional armored and air force into the battle against the 35.000-strong YPG Kurdish fighters. This is no longer just a sizeable military raid, as Ankara has claimed, but a full-fledged war operation. Turkish forces are continuing to advancing in three directions and by Sunday, Aug. 28 had struck 15-17km deep inside northern Syria across a 100km wide strip.
Their targets are clearly defined: the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwest Syria and the Kurdish enclave of Qamishli and Hassaka in the east, in order to block the merger of Kurdish enclaves into a contiguous Syrian Kurdish state.
Another goal was Al-Bab north of and within range of Aleppo for a role in a major theater of the Syrian conflict. To reach Al-Bab, the Turkish force would have to fight its way through Kurdish-controlled territory.
- The Turks are also using a proxy to fight the Syrian Kurds. Thousands of Syrian Democratic Army (SDF) rebels, whom they trained and supplied to fight Syria’s Bashar Assad army and the Islamic State, have been diverted to targeting the Kurds under the command of Turkish officers, to which Turkish elite forces are attached.
- A Turkish Engineering Corps combat unit is equipped for crossing the Euphrates River and heading east to push the Kurds further back. Contrary to reports, the Turkish have not yet crossed the river itself or pushed the Kurds back – only forded a small stream just east of Jarablus. The main Kurdish force is deployed to the south not the east of the former ISIS stronghold.
- Neither have Turkish-backed Syrian forces captured Manbij, the town 35km south of Jarablus which the Kurds with US support captured from ISIS earlier this month. Contrary to claims by Ankara’s spokesmen, those forces are still only 10-15km on the road to Mabij.
- Sunday, heavy fighting raged around a cluster of Kurdish villages, Beir Khoussa and Amarneh, where the Turks were forced repeatedly to retreat under Kurdish counter attacks. Some of the villages were razed to the ground by the Turkish air force and tanks. At least 35 villagers were reported killed.
- In four days of fierce battles, the Kurds suffered 150 dead and the Turkish side, 60.
- debkafile military sources also report preparations Sunday to evacuate US Special Operations Forces and helicopter units from the Rmeilan air base near the Syrian-Kurdish town of Hassaka. If the fighting around the base intensifies, they will be relocated in northern Iraq.
- Fighters of the Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga were seen removing their uniforms and donning Syrian YPG gear before crossing the border Sunday and heading west to join their Syrian brothers in the battle against Turkey.
- The KRG President Masoud Barazani expects to travel to Tehran in the next few days with an SOS for Iranian help against the US and the Turks. On the table for a deal is permission from Irbil for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to win their first military bases in the Iraqi Kurdish republic, as well as transit for Iranian military forces to reach Syria through Kurdish territory..