Kurds in Syria call for U.S. help as Turkey threatens ground assault


BAGHDAD — A U.S.-supported Syrian enclave braced for an assault by Turkish forces as the realm’s high commander known as on Washington to do extra to stop a threatened ground invasion.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s forces launched air, drone and artillery strikes on northeastern Syrian cities and cities for a fourth day Wednesday. Some 18 civilians and three troopers have been killed, in response to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S.-backed pressure in the realm.

The assaults have despatched ripples of concern via a area that’s no stranger to threats from its neighbor. The Turkish authorities has fought Kurdish militants at dwelling for a long time, and it views the Kurdish dominated SDF as a risk to its nationwide safety. Turkish forces final invaded the enclave in 2019, after what Erdogan’s administration appeared to view as a greenlight from President Donald Trump.

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Erdogan is threatening to repeat that assault with contemporary ground forces, framing the strikes as retaliation for an attack in central Istanbul that killed six individuals and wounded dozens extra on a bustling thoroughfare final week. No group has declared accountability for the assault.

“Those who condemn the attack in Istanbul with crocodile tears have revealed their real faces with their reactions to the operation that we began immediately after,” Erdogan mentioned in a speech to members of his get together gathered in Ankara. “We have the right to take care of ourselves.”

A U.S.-led military coalition joined the struggle in opposition to Islamic State forces in 2014 after the militants seized 41,000 sq. miles throughout Iraq and Syria. In Syria, the U.S. rapidly selected Kurdish-led troops as their companion pressure, and three and a half years after the militants had been routed, lots of of American troops are nonetheless stationed in territory now below risk of invasion.

It was a partial American withdrawal in 2019 that once more redrew the map of northeastern Syria, paving the best way for Turkey to invade as the U.S. ceded territory as soon as patrolled by its forces to a Turkish-backed Syrian militia pressure and in different locations to the Syrian military and its Russian backers.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Gen. Mazloum Kobane Abdi, the SDF’s high commander and Washington’s strongest ally in Syria, urged Western allies to strongly oppose additional Turkish assaults, arguing that Western strain might avert a ground operation.

“It’s not news to anyone that Erdogan has been threatening the ground operation for months, but he could launch this operation now,” mentioned Abdi. “This war, if it happens, won’t benefit anybody. It will affect many lives, there will be massive waves of displacement, and a humanitarian crisis.”

On Wednesday night time, the SDF mentioned that it will be briefly ceasing its operations in opposition to ISIS to deal with combating the Turkish assault.

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The violence places the United States in a bind. Its resolution to again a Kurdish-led ground pressure in the struggle in opposition to the Islamic State put it at odds with NATO-ally Turkey, and it has struggled ever since to steadiness commitments to each. The conflict in Ukraine has sophisticated issues additional, analysts say, as Washington appears to be like to Ankara for assist in Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO, isolating Russia economically, and bolstering a deal permitting the export of Ukrainian grain to shore up the world’s meals provide.

“Ukraine being the overwhelming priority means looking for ways to keep Ankara onside, as U.S.-Turkey relations have grown increasingly fraught over time,” mentioned Jonathan Lord, Director of the Middle East Security Program on the Center for a New American Security and a former employees member on the House Armed Services Committee.

“There’s likely little appetite for meaningfully engaging Erdogan on Syria, which often engenders a highly emotional response from the Turkish side, particularly if it puts Washington’s objectives in Europe at greater risk.”

So far, the Biden administration has rigorously prevented being seen to take a facet. “What we have said publicly, is that these strikes, from all sides, risk our mission, which is to defeat ISIS,” Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon’s deputy press secretary, informed reporters Tuesday.

“We’ve been consistent on this,” she replied, when requested whether or not the U.S. was involved about widening navy operations in Syria. “We oppose all of the strikes that are happening right now from all sides.”

Turkey started threatening a brand new ground incursion into Syria earlier this yr, however by no means adopted via, resorting as a substitute to selective assaults in northern Syria. The risk has been seen by analysts as a part of election yr politics, with Erdogan dealing with a probably powerful reelection marketing campaign early subsequent yr and hoping to rally nationalist-minded voters.

On Wednesday morning, the SDF mentioned that at the least 45 places had been hit over three days — amongst them, a number of medical services and a faculty constructing. In the border city of Derik, a reporter with the Kurdish Hawar News Agency, Essam Abdullah, was killed in a Turkish airstrike as he reported on an earlier assault in the identical space, the outlet reported.

In a publish on Twitter, SDF spokesman Farhad Shami reposted a message from Biden in 2019, accusing Trump of abandoning the U.S.-backed pressure. “Today under your presidency, the same is happening,” Shami wrote. “Our people and our forces have the right to know your stance regarding the Turkish aggression against our people.”

In the city of Kobane close to the Turkish border, some residents have slept in hallways as strikes shook their window frames. Others dragged their mattresses to sleep in close by orchards in the hope that they’d be safer there.

Nesrin Salim, 32, mentioned that she had run dwelling via the night time to seize blankets after which hurried her youngsters to a cluster of timber the place different native households had been gathering.

“We were in a panic; we were confused. We didn’t know when we would be hit,” Salim mentioned, recalling the assaults as she hung her youngsters’s garments out to dry Wednesday morning. “My only concern is my kids. I can’t think of anything else.”

Fear that Washington’s curiosity in northeastern Syria is waning has left the SDF more and more reliant on the Syrian authorities and its ally Russia for safety in opposition to Turkey. Alexander Lavrentyev, Russia’s particular envoy to Syria, said Wednesday that Moscow’s “close contact” with the Turkish Defense Ministry might forestall an escalation.

As Turkish assaults proceed, there have additionally been salvos fired from Syria into Turkey. A toddler and a trainer had been killed and 6 individuals, amongst them a lady who was 5-months pregnant, had been harm Monday when mortars hit a border space in Turkey’s Gaziantep province.

Mazloum denied that the SDF was accountable for the strikes, saying that the pressure sought solely to de-escalate the state of affairs. But in different public media, the SDF has vowed to take revenge. “They have killed many of our people, and we will retaliate,” Shami tweeted Monday.

Mustafa al-Ali in Kobane, Syria, Karoun Demirjian in Washington and Kareem Fahim in Doha contributed to this report.

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