US should force PYD to step back in Syria: Gov’t
AA photoThe United States “should keep its word” and force the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) to withdraw to the east of the Euphrates, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş has said, responding to U.S. President Barack Obama’s special representative Brett McGurk’s remarks on Turkey hitting PYD targets.
“The U.S. knows Turkey’s sensitivity on this issue. A promise was given: The PYD won’t stay west of the Euphrates river,” Kurtulmuş told journalists in Istanbul on Aug. 29, referring to Ankara’s demand that the PYD moves back to the east of the Euphrates.
His remarks came after similar words from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who expressed Ankara’s determination in keeping the People’s Protection Units, the armed wing of the PYD, away from the north of the Euphrates, a redline in Turkish foreign policy. “We expect the U.S. to use its influence on the PYD,” Kurtulmuş added.
Earlier, Washington had criticized clashes between Turkish forces and some opposition groups in northern Syria on Aug. 29 as “unacceptable,” calling on all armed actors in the fighting to stand down and focus on the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“We want to make clear that we find these clashes - in areas where ISIL is not located - unacceptable and a source of deep concern,” Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the coalition to counter ISIL, said on his official Twitter account, citing a defense department statement.
In response, Kurtulmuş vowed that Turkey will “protect itself from future attacks,” adding that it “cannot sit back and watch an attack that could come from Syria.”
“If the whole region falls under control of a single group, the PYD, then Syria will be divided. We are in favor of [maintaining] Syria’s territorial integrity,” he said.
Kurtulmuş also commented on the situation in Manbij, a town that the Syrian Kurdish forces recently took from ISIL, saying that “one of the promises given to Turkey was that the PYD would evacuate from Manbij.”
Ankara says the PYD, which has allied with the U.S. in the anti-ISIL fight, is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has recently escalated its attacks in Turkey. Washington considers the PKK terrorists but backs the YPG militia in the fight against ISIL.
The Turkish military backs a number of Syrian rebel groups in their advance on ISIL across its border with Syria, while it also targets the YPG forces.
The YPG would be targeted “until it moves east of the Euphrates,” Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said on Aug. 29.
The aim of Operation Euphrates Shield was to clear the Jarablus region in northern Syria of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the minister stated.
“So why is the YPG uncomfortable if the common enemy is Deash [ISIL]?” Çavuşoğlu said.
“They [YPG] need to move to the east side of the Euphrates as soon as possible, as they had announced they would and as the U.S. had promised,” Çavuşoğlu said at a joint press conference with Dutch counterpart Bert Koenders.
His comments came after a Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander said they would target YPG units in Manbij.
Predominantly Syrian Arabs living in the Manbij region have been displaced, Çavuşoğlu said, stressing they must return to their hometown and vowing that Arabs in the region would not be targeted.
“The YPG’s aim is different. The YPG forces everybody, including Kurds who have a different opinion, to migrate. They conduct ethnic cleansing,” he stated.
Even a small number of troops could clear ISIL from the region, Çavuşoğlu also said, adding that ground operations could eliminate the jihadist group in both Syria and Iraq.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also vowed late on Aug. 28 to devote equal energy to combatting ISIL and the YPG, on the fifth day of a major offensive.
“We will make any kind of contribution to the work to clear Daesh [ISIL] from Syria,” Erdoğan told a rally in the southern city of Gaziantep, near the Syrian border.
“On the issue of the PYD terror group we have the same determination,” he added.
On Aug. 28, Turkish forces ramped up their offensive, with Turkish warplanes and artillery pounding areas held by pro-Kurdish forces close to a town liberated from ISIL this week.
Ankara said its raids had “killed 25 terrorists” and vowed that the army was doing “everything it could” to avoid civilian casualties.
Addressing thousands of flag-waving supporters in Gaziantep, Erdoğan said he was “ready and determined to clear our region of terror groups.”
“We will absolutely not allow any terror activity on or near our borders,” he vowed.
Gaziantep is the city where a suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of a wedding party last weekend, killing 55 people in an attack that Turkey has blamed on ISIL.
Days later Ankara launched the two-pronged Syria operation with the stated aim of clearing the border area of both ISIL and the Kurdish fighters.
The president also reaffirmed a previous statement that the bomber, whose identity is still not officially known, was aged just 14.