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MIDEAST >Turkey not contributing to US-backed Syria operation near Manbij: Source

ANKARA - Reuters

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Armed men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic forces as US special operations forces ride in the back of pickup trucks in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa on May 25, 2016 - AFP photo

Armed men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic forces as US special operations forces ride in the back of pickup trucks in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa on May 25, 2016 - AFP photo

Turkey is not contributing to a U.S.-backed operation by Syrian fighters, some of them Kurdish, against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the last tract of territory the group holds near the Turkish border, a Turkish military source said on June 1. 

Ankara had been informed by Washington about the operation near Manbij, in a region some 40 km (25 miles) from its border, but could not support it because of the involvement of Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia fighters and because it was beyond the range of artillery stationed in Turkey, the source said. 

"Turkey has no contribution to the support that the U.S. gives to the YPG in Syria's Manbij region. Turkey was informed by the United States about the operation, but any contribution is out of the question," the source said. 

"This region is 40 km from Turkey's border and therefore it is impossible for Turkey to provide support. It is also out of the question politically for Turkey to give support to a YPG operation," he said. 

U.S. officials told Reuters thousands of fighters, supported by a small number of U.S. special forces, were launching an offensive to capture the crucial swathe of northern Syria that militants have long used as a logistics base. 

The operation would be overwhelmingly comprised of Syrian Arabs rather than the Kurdish YPG, who will only represent about a fifth or a sixth of the overall force, the officials said. 

But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, said the YPG made up the majority of the fighters taking part in the assault by the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, with the initial target of capturing Manbij town. 

Turkey, a NATO member, has strongly opposed any further expansion by Syrian Kurdish militia fighters at the frontier. Ankara says the YPG has deep ideological and logistical ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Thousands of U.S.-backed fighters in Syria are launching an offensive to capture from ISIL a crucial swathe of Manbij pocket following weeks of quiet preparations, U.S. officials disclosed to Reuters. 

The operation, which only just started to get underway on May 31 and could take weeks to complete, aims to choke off ISIL’s access to Syrian territory along the Turkish border that militants have long used as a logistics base for moving foreign fighters back and forth to Europe. 

“It’s significant in that it’s their last remaining funnel” to Europe, a U.S. military official said. 

A small number of U.S. special operations forces will support the offensive on the ground, acting as advisors and staying some distance back from the front lines, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss military planning. 

“They’ll be as close as they need to be for the (Syrian fighters) to complete the operation. But they will not engage in direct combat,” the official said. 

The operation comes ahead of an eventual push by the U.S.-backed Syrian forces toward the city of Raqqa, ISIL’s defacto capital in Syria and the prime objective in Syria for U.S. military planners. 

The U.S. military official said depriving ISIL of the Manbij pocket would help further isolate the militants and further undermine their ability to funnel supplies to Raqqa. 

U.S. President Barack Obama has authorized about 300 U.S. special operations forces to operate on the ground from secret locations inside Syria to help coordinate with local forces to battle ISIL there. 

In a reminder of the risks, one U.S. servicemember was injured north of Raqqa over the weekend, the Pentagon said.

June/01/2016

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