Turkish intel ‘closely watching’ anti-ISIL operation near its border: Erdoğan
Turkish intelligence and military units are closely watching a U.S. and Syrian opposition operation in Manbij, a key spot held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) near Syria’s border with Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, adding that the move was largely being carried out by Arabs rather than Kurdish forces.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi, Erdoğan said around 3,000 men under the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) were joining the operation and that some 2,500 of them were Arabs, while around 450 were from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria.
Turkey claims the PYD is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and wants its U.S. ally to cease cooperating with it, but Washington has not signaled that it will end cooperation with the group in the fight against ISIL.
“What we have been told is that the YPG will predominantly act as a logistical force here and the main force will be Arabs,” Erdoğan said.
“We are monitoring what is being done in this process through our own intelligence network and command chain. We will see,” he said when asked about the YPG’s role.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said June 1 that weapons given to the YPG militia in Syria were making their way to PKK militants in Turkey.
The Turkish military said on June 2 that it had shelled ISIL positions in Syria, west of the U.S.-SDF operation, killing five militants.
According to a statement issued by the Turkish General Staff, Turkish forces hit two ISIL targets in the al-Sheikh and Yahmoul regions of northern Syria on June 1.
Turkish warplanes also carried out airstrikes against the PKK in Iraq’s north.
Thousands of Syrian rebels supported by a small U.S. special operations team launched a major offensive on May 31 to drive ISIL from the “Manbij pocket,” which ISIL has used as a logistics hub.
Washington informed Ankara of the Manbij operation, a point beyond the range of Turkish artillery.
Syrian militias vowed on June 2 to drive ISIL from Manbij and surrounding areas and urged civilians there to stay away from militant positions that would be targeted in the campaign.
“We confirm that this campaign will continue until the liberation of the last inch of the land of Manbij and its rural areas,” said a joint statement in the name of the SDF and the allied Manbij Military Council.
The statement was read out on the banks of the Euphrates River by Manbij Military Council commander Adnan Abu Amjad.
“We urge our people in the city of Manbij to stay away from all centers and positions where the Daesh terrorists are present because they will be military targets for our forces. We call on them to take measures to ensure their safety,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
“We also call on our people in Manbij to offer support and help to our forces,” said Abu Amjad. He said the Manbij military council represented all the area’s ethnic groups, which he listed as Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Circassians.
The statement said control would be handed to a civilian council after the town was freed.
“Oh brave people of Manbij, our forces are coming to liberate you from the shackles of the Daesh terrorist torturers,” it said.
The council due to manage the city’s civilian affairs was set up in May in the town of Sarrin, said Sheikh Farouk al-Mashi, head of the council. Sarrin was captured by the YPG from ISIL last year.
A plan to airlift supplies to besieged towns in Syria, meanwhile, has been finalized but Russia and others are concerned about the safety of aid workers, and Damascus government approval is needed for the risky operation, a senior U.N. official said on June 2.
“Air drops...remains an option if land deliveries do not go through,” Ramzy E. Ramzy, U.N. deputy special envoy for Syria, told reporters after the U.N. humanitarian task force met a day after the passing of a June 1 target for starting air drops.
“I don’t think it’s imminent but I think the process that will lead to air drops has already started,” Ramzy said. “It is not just the Russians who are concerned about security, it is an issue that has to be resolved in a way that allows this to go ahead.”