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Turkey warns US troops over Syria clash risk

By AFP - Feb 04,2018 - Last updated at Feb 04,2018

ISTANBUL — Turkey on Sunday threatened to expand its operation against Kurdish militia in Syria to the town of Manbij and even east of the Euphrates, warning that American soldiers risked being targeted in the area if they wore enemy uniform.

Turkey on January 20 launched the “Olive Branch” operation in the northern Syrian region of Afrin, fighting Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara sees as a terror group.

With the YPG a key ally of Washington in the battle against extremists, the campaign has seen a fellow NATO partner of the United States fighting an openly US-backed and US-armed force.

Beyond the northwestern enclave of Afrin, the YPG also controls the key strategic town of Manbij to the east and then a long strip of territory east of the Euphrates up to the Iraqi border.

“If they [the YPG] do not withdraw from Manbij, then we will go to Manbij, we will go east of the Euphrates,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told CNN-Turk. 

American troops have no presence in and around Afrin, but they are present in Manbij and east of the Euphrates, where they have assisted the YPG in the fight against Daesh.

Bozdag emphasised that Turkey wanted no confrontation with American troops, but said US soldiers risked being caught up in clashes if they appeared in uniforms of the YPG.

This appeared to be a reference to past images of American troops in northern Syria showing them with YPG insignia.

“We do not at all want any clash with the US in Manbij, east of the Euphrates or in any other place,” said Bozdag. 

“But the US has to be aware of Turkey’s sensitivities. If US soldiers wear terrorist uniforms or are among the terrorists in the event of an attack against the army then there is not going to be the chance to make a distinction,” he said. 

“If they come up against us in such a uniform we will see them as... terrorists.”

There have been heavy clashes with the YPG in the Afrin campaign so far and Bozdag was speaking after seven Turkish troops were killed on Saturday, including five in a tank attack, the heaviest single day loss of the campaign so far.

Pro-government Turkish media said the tank attack was carried out with an anti-tank missile given to the YPG by the US, but this has yet to be confirmed.

“The supposed ally the United States knows no limit in treachery,” said the Yeni Akit daily. 

 

Call for world powers

 

Local authorities in Syria’s Afrin called on Sunday for world powers to intervene to halt a Turkish-led assault on their region, accusing Russia of complicity in civilian deaths there.

Afrin’s local administration — the semi-autonomous government in place since 2013 — shot back accusations of “terrorism” on Sunday and urged Moscow to take a firm stand.

“We ask the Russian federation in particular to rescind its support for the Turkish state’s terrorism against the people of Afrin,” it said in a statement.

“It bears responsibility for the massacres the fascist Turkish state is carrying out against innocent civilians.”

Russia, which intervened militarily in Syria’s war in 2015, had troops positioned in Afrin but withdrew them as Turkey launched the assault.

The YPG and Afrin officials say that withdrawal amounted to tacit approval of the Turkish offensive.

Officials on Sunday also called for the United States, European Union, United Nations Security Council and the US-led coalition to “immediately intervene to stop Turkey’s aggression”.

Ankara says it launched the operation to protect its southern border and insists that it is doing everything it can to avoid civilian casualties.

But the campaign has sparked mass protests, including in Afrin on Sunday.

Thousands of people marched in downtown Afrin with YPG flags and posters of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkey is vehemently opposed to the YPG because of its ties to the PKK, which has waged a three-decade insurgency against Turkish forces.

“We’re holding the whole world responsible because we fought terrorism on behalf of everyone, but today the world agreed to kill Syrians,” said Ali Mahmoud, 45.

Other demonstrators clutched olive branches, a symbol of Afrin, which is known for its abundant olive groves but also now associated with the name Turkey gave its offensive.

“They named their attack ‘Olive Branch’. It’s a thorn in their hand, but in our hands, it’s a gun,” said Fikrat Afdal, 33.

At least 68 civilians, including 21 children, have died in Turkish shelling as part of the assault, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

 

More than 100 pro-Ankara rebels and a similar number of YPG fighters have also died, the British-based monitor says.

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