Kurds in Syria call for U.S. help as Turkey threatens ground assault

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BAGHDAD – A U.S.-backed Syrian enclave facing an attack by Turkish forces, as the area’s top commander urged Washington to do more to prevent a threatened ground invasion that Biden administration officials said violated threat to the NATO alliance, Turkey and the resurgence of the Islamic State. in Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s forces launched what US officials said were at least 100 air, drone and artillery strikes on northeastern Syrian towns and cities over the past four days. About 18 civilians and three soldiers were killed, according to the Syrian Democratic Forces, the US-backed force in the area.

The attacks sent shockwaves through an area that is no stranger to threats from its neighbour. Turkey, which has fought militants from its own Kurdish minority at home for years, looks to the SDF, led by Syrian Kurds, as a threat to its national security. Turkish forces invaded the enclave in 2019, following what appeared to Erdogan as a green light from President Donald Trump.

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Erdogan is threatening to repeat that attack with fresh ground forces, framing the strikes as revenge for an attack in central Istanbul last week that killed six people and injured dozens more. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which Erdogan blamed on the SDF.

“Those who condemn the attack in Istanbul with crocodile tears have revealed their true faces with their reactions to the operation we started immediately after,” Erdogan said in a speech to members of his party. collected in Ankara. “We have a right to take care of ourselves.”

The SDF and other Kurdish organizations have denied responsibility for the Istanbul attack.

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A US-led military coalition joined the fight against Islamic State forces in 2014 after the Islamic State 41,000 square miles across Iraq and Syria were seized. In Syria, the United States quickly selected Kurdish-led troops as a partner force. Three and a half years after the militants were and Trump has partially withdrawn US forces, hundreds of American troops remain on the territory that is now under threat of invasion, supporting SDF units that are still fighting military remnants.

In an interview with the Washington Post, the Gen. argued. Mazloum Kobane Abdi, the main commander of the SDF and Washington’s strongest ally in Syria, on Western allies to strongly oppose further attacks from Turkey, arguing that Western pressure could avoid a ground operation.

“It is not news to anyone that Erdogan has been threatening the ground operation for months, but he could launch this operation now,” said Abdi. “This war, if it happens, will not benefit anyone. It will affect many lives. There will be massive waves of displacement, and a humanitarian crisis.”

Pentagon press secretary, Air Force Brig. General Patrick Ryder, said in a statement that “recent airstrikes in Syria posed a direct threat to the safety of US personnel working in Syria with local partners to defeat ISIS and to detain more than ten thousand ISIS detainees. … An immediate de-escalation is necessary to focus on the mission of defeating ISIS and to ensure the safety and security of personnel on the ground committed to the mission of defeating ISIS.”

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The violence binds the United States. His decision nearly a decade ago to back a Kurdish-led ground force in the fight against Islamic State put him at odds with NATO, Turkey, and has struggled ever since. to balance commitments to both. The war in Ukraine is further complicated, analysts say, with Washington looking to Ankara for support in Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO, isolating Russia economically, and strengthening an agreement that allows Ukrainian grain exports to supply the country’s food supply. protect deep.

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“Ukraine’s top priority is to find ways to keep Ankara at bay, as US-Turkey relations have worsened over time,” said Jonathan Lord, director of the Security Program the Middle East at the Center for a New American Security and former leader. staff member on the House Armed Services Committee. “Erdogan probably has little desire to engage sensibly with Syria, which often creates a highly emotional response from Turkey, especially if it further threatens Washington’s objectives in Europe.”

So far, the Biden administration has carefully avoided being seen as taking sides. “What we have said publicly is that these strikes, from all sides, jeopardize our mission, which is to defeat ISIS,” Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon’s deputy press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday .

Public criticism of Ankara would serve no useful purpose at this point, according to several US administration and military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

But “we have been very clear in our private diplomatic communications with Ankara about the risk of such operations,” one official said. “They are dangerous, they are destabilizing, and they also have the potential to put our personnel in harm’s way. We have not given anyone the green light to carry out this type of destructive operation.”

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The spokesperson of the Central Command Col. Joe Buccino that one of the Turkish attacks on Tuesday came within 130 meters of US troops, who often share bases with SDF personnel.

Turkey has few friends and some powerful critics in Congress, many of whom would consider an invasion of the US-affiliated SDF a reason to impose direct consequences on Ankara. That pressure would likely increase exponentially if any US service members were injured in the attacks.

At the same time, a decline in the SDF’s focus on the sporadic but ongoing fight against the Islamic State could fuel a militant revival. On Wednesday night, the SDF said it would temporarily cease its operations against ISIS to focus on Turkey.

Turkey began threatening a new ground invasion into Syria earlier this year, but never followed through, resorting to selective attacks in northern Syria. Analysts have seen the threat as part of election-year politics, as Erdogan faces a potentially tough re-election campaign early next year as he hopes to galvanize nationalist voters.

US officials said they have yet to see any indication that Turkey is mobilizing for a ground attack, in contrast to 2019 when Turkish troops and equipment arrived all along the Syrian border.

In a post on Twitter, SDF spokesman Farhad Shami reposted a message from Biden in 2019, accusing Trump of abandoning the US-backed force. “Today under your presidency, the same thing is happening,” Shami wrote. “Our people and our forces have the right to know your position on Turkey’s attack on our people.”

DeYoung reported from Washington. Mustafa al-Ali in Kobane, Syria; Karoun Demirjian in Washington; and Kareem Fahim in Doha, Qatar, with this report.

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