It’s been about a week since Turkey crossed the Syrian border with tanks, artillery and warplanes under the guise of destroying ISIS. But Turkey’s actions are much different than their words. Turkey’s forces have pressed into areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition that encompasses the Kurdish YPG militia and which has been backed by the United States.
Casualties and deaths attributed to the Turkey advance are in dispute; a civil rights group monitoring the Syrian civil war puts the total dead at 41, while Turkey says 25 Kurdish militants have been killed.
“We want to make clear that we find these clashes – in areas where ISIL is not located – unacceptable and a source of deep concern,” said Brett McGurk, U.S special envoy for the fight against Islamic States.
“We call on all armed actors to stand down,” he wrote on Twitter, citing a U.S. Department of Defense statement.
Turkey, which is battling a Kurdish insurgency on its soil, has said its campaign has a dual goal of “cleansing” the region of Islamic State and stopping Kurdish forces filling the void and extending the area they control near Turkey’s border.
Turkish European Affairs Minister Omer Celik has said: “No one has the right to tell us which terrorist organization we can fight against.”
Turkey has said its warplanes and artillery have bombarded positions held by the Kurdish YPG militia in recent days. It accuses the YPG of seeking to take territory where there has not traditionally been a strong Kurdish ethnic contingent.
“The YPG is engaged in ethnic cleansing, they are placing who they want to in those places,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in Ankara, demanding Kurdish forces withdraw east of the Euphrates river, a natural boundary with areas of eastern Syria under Kurdish control.
The YPG, a powerful Syrian Kurdish militia in the SDF that Washington sees as a reliable ally against ISIS in the Syrian conflict, have dismissed the Turkish allegation and say any of its forces west of the Euphrates have long since left.
U.S. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the United States had demanded the YPG return to the eastern side of the Euphrates but said Washington understood this had “largely occurred”.
But Turkey fears that, if Kurdish militia create an unbroken swathe of territory, it could embolden the Kurdish militant PKK group which has fought a three-decade-long insurgency on Turkish soil to demand autonomy in Turkey’s southeast.
Turkish-backed forces say they seized a string of villages south of Syria’s Jarablus in a region controlled by groups aligned to the U.S.- and Kurdish-backed SDF. They also say they have taken a few settlements to the west in Islamic State areas.
All of this news is troubling for the United States and creates another proxy war. Russia is currently backing Bashar al-Assad and the pre-war Syrian government, the US is backing the Kurdish and anti-Assad groups and now Turkey is fighting the Kurdish.
One thing is certain, the middle east is getting worse.