The head of a prominent Syrian Kurdish militia said Turkish military deployments in northwestern Syria amount to a “declaration of war,” Reuters reports.
“These [Turkish] preparations have reached level of a declaration of war and could lead to the outbreak of actual clashes in the coming days,” YPG commander Sipan Hemo told Reuters. “We will not stand idly by against this potential aggression.”
The YPG, a Kurdish acronym for “People’s Protection Units,” is the armed wing of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD), and one of the main groups within the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF launched an operation to expel the Islamic State from its de facto capital of Raqqa in early June, taking territory along the Euphrates River to the south of the town, and just this week punching through the ancient Rafiqah Wall that surrounds Raqqa’s Old City.
Turkey, for its part, was apoplectic over the American administration’s decision to not only work with, but arm, the Syrian Kurds, and as late as April outright threatened military action. Indeed, clashes broke out over the period of several days between the two sides soon after that threat in late April; the exchange left 11 Kurdish fighters dead.
Now, however, Turkish officials insist their recent maneuvers in northern Syria are purely defensive.
“This is not a declaration of war,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Wednesday. “We are making preparations against potential threats. It’s […] a legitimate measure so that we can protect our independence. We cannot remain silent against those sending missiles from Afrin.”
In recent weeks, the Turkish military and the YPG have traded fire near the town of Afrin in northwestern Syria, not far from Turkey’s southern border.
“Their [the YPG’s] primary goal is a threat to Turkey, and if Turkey sees a YPG movement in northern Syria that is a threat to it, it will retaliate in kind,” Kurtulmus said.
The Turkish government considers the YPG an extension of the Turkish Kurdistan Worker’s Party, a political party that has long been on Turkey’s terrorism list.
According to a piece published this week at the Saudi-owned paper, Ashraq al-Awsat, at least seven American bases have been established around Kurdish territory within Syria, mostly near the northern town of Kobani, but also in Tel Abiyad, just miles from the Turkish border, as well as several other cities. The U.S., moreover, has reportedly set up a new base in the city of Tabqah, significantly further to the south than those described in the Ashraq al-Awsat report.
A rumor also emerged last month purporting a deal between the United States and the YPG to allow American forces to occupy Kurdish territory for up to 10 years in exchange for military aid, but it remains unconfirmed.
It is unclear how the American presence in and around Kurdish areas in northern Syria will affect Turkey’s willingness to retaliate militarily, but Turkey, a member of NATO, certainly has an incentive to steer clear of killing any U.S. soldiers who happen to be embedded with Kurdish units.
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