Trump urges Turkish president to scale back military action in Syria

Reuters

Turkey's air and ground operation in Syria's Afrin region, now in its fifth day, targets USA -backed Kurdish YPG fighters, which Ankara sees as allies of Kurdish insurgents who have fought in southeastern Turkey for decades.

Speaking with Erdogan by telephone, Trump became the latest US official to try to rein in the offensive and to pointedly flag the risk of the two allies' forces coming into conflict.

The United States has around 2,000 special forces troops in Syria, officially as part of an worldwide US -led coalition, assisting the Kurds in battle against Islamic State. US forces are based in Kurdish-held parts of northeastern Syria, including near Manbij, but not in or near Afrin. Washington has angered Turkey by providing arms, training and air support to the Syrian Kurdish forces, which Turkey considers enemies.

Speaking in Ankara before leaders of Turkish provinces, Erdoğan vowed to extend the operation to the town of Manbij east of Aleppo, a move that could lead to clashes between Turkish and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces.

"Starting in Manbij, we will continue to thwart their game".

Washington's extension of an olive branch to Turkey on such a sensitive issue seems to have produced positive results on the Turkish side and marks a new phase in relations between the two powers. Manbij is a city far east of Afrin and south of Turkey, where the USA maintains a military presence.

While many foreign volunteers were inspired to travel to the country to join the Kurds fighting against extremists, the new battleground poses a thorny problem both for the worldwide brigades and the security services in their home countries. -Turkish goals in Syria and expressed concern about "destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey". "The Dutch government has never supported the YPG", he said.

Any move toward Manbij would bring North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member Turkey and its Syrian allies closer to USA forces, threatening friction.

As Turkey pushed ahead with its operation in Afrin, fears grew of an escalation in tension with the USA, despite both countries being North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies.

The YPG (People's Protection Units) is a Syrian Kurdish militia allied with the United States that has significantly contributed to the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria, particularly in Raqqa.

Dozens of combatants have been killed since Turkey launched its offensive, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria.

Turkey says it wants to create a 30 kilometer (20-mile) deep "secure zone" in Afrin.

More news: Drone Strike In Pakistan Kills Haqqani Commander

Nauert refused to answer, however, whether the Syrian Kurdish forces being attacked had "a right to defend themselves" from Turkish aggression, instead insisting on "further de-escalation of violence".

It was the fourth incident within a week against the mosques of the Turkish Muslim community, amid violent protests by the sympathizers of the PYD/PKK against Turkey's military operation against terrorist targets in Syria's Afrin district.

The YPG is a key ally of the United States in Syria, much to Turkey's ire.

Turkey on Saturday launched Operation Olive Branch to remove PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin.

Turkey has accepted some 3.5 million refugees from Syria with the southern city of Gaziantep - near front lines along Syria's northern border - hosting 500,000 alone, or a quarter of its population.

A senior US official said that as of Tuesday the Turks had not been ready to engage in detail on such a proposal.

Despite Turkey being an important North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, the European Union has all but frozen Turkey's accession bid - long stalled in any case - in reaction to sweeping dismissals and arrests of the military, judges, scientists and journalists following the failed coup.

Syrian Kurdish forces captured Manbij, which is west of the Euphrates River, from IS in 2016 with the help of the US -led coalition.

In 2016, the Kurdish-led SDF pushed Islamic State fighters out of Manbij.

"It's a headache", said Macer Gifford, a British man who formerly volunteered with the YPG in the fight against Isis but who is now home in the UK.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that the fighting "disrupts what was a relatively stable area of Syria" and "distracts from the global efforts to ensure the defeat of ISIS", using another acronym for the extremist group.

The United States hopes to use the YPG's control of the area to give it the diplomatic muscle it needs to revive U.N. -led talks in Geneva on a deal that would end Syria's civil war and eventually lead to the ouster of President Bashar Assad.

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