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3:40, 24 January 2018

Mixed Messages From U.S. as Turkey Attacks Syrian Kurds

Mixed Messages From U.S. as Turkey Attacks Syrian Kurds

Mixed Messages From U.S. as Turkey Attacks Syrian Kurds


WASHINGTON — The White Home sent out a message aimed at mollifying Turkey’s president on Tuesday, suggesting that the United States was easing off its help for the Syrian Kurds.

That message was quickly contradicted by the Pentagon, which said it would continue to stand by the Kurds, even as Turkey invaded their stronghold in northwestern Syria.

The conflicting statements appeared to reflect an effort by the administration to balance competing pressures. Turkey, which has been furious over American help for the Kurds, is a NATO ally, while the Kurds have been critical American partners in the war against the Islamic State.

For its component, the White Residence disavowed a plan by the American military to develop a Kurdish-led force in northeastern Syria, which Turkey has vehemently opposed. Turkey, which considers the Kurdish militia a terrorist organization, fears the program would cement a Kurdish enclave along its southern frontier.

That program, a senior administration official said Tuesday, originated with midlevel military planners in the field, and was in no way seriously debated, or even formally introduced, at senior levels in the White Property or the National Safety Council.

The official, who spoke to reporters on condition that he not be identified, also mentioned that the United States had no connection to the Kurds in the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin, where the Turkish military has launched an invasion in recent days.

And he drew a distinction in between allies — a term he mentioned had legal connotations — and partners in a combat mission, like the Kurds. America’s actions on the ground in Syria, he stated, would be driven by a calculation of its interests.

Taken with each other, the administration’s statements appeared to be a significant try to reassure Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who considers the Kurds a threat to his country’s internal stability.

But the Pentagon issued its personal statement on Tuesday standing by its selection to generate the Kurdish-led force. And a senior American commander praised the partnership with the Kurds, whose aid was essential in a key American airstrike on the Islamic State, also identified as ISIS, more than the weekend.

“U.S. forces are education neighborhood partners to serve as a force that is internally focused on stability and deterring ISIS,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, mentioned in the statement. “These nearby safety forces are aimed at stopping the prospective outflow of fleeing ISIS terrorists as their physical presence in Syria nears its finish and pending a longer-term settlement of the civil war in Syria to guarantee that ISIS can not escape or return.”

The Pentagon has engaged in a rebranding work, however, as the force was initially described as a border force, leading Turkey to fear the presence of thousands of American-backed, Kurdish troops on its border. Military officials are now saying that its duties will be primarily internal.

The debate more than the partnership with the Kurds is taking place as the Kurds continue to play a key part fighting alongside the Americans in Syria.

The military’s Central Command mentioned Tuesday that about 150 Islamic State fighters were killed in American airstrikes near As Shafah, Syria, on Saturday, in one the biggest strikes against ISIS in the past year. The Kurdish-led militia, called the Syrian Democratic Forces, or S.D.F., helped guide the airstrikes, American officials stated.

“The strikes underscore our assertion that the fight to liberate Syria is far from over,” Maj. Gen. James Jarrard, the commander of Specific Operations forces in Iraq and Syria, mentioned a statement. “Our S.D.F. partners are still making every day progress and sacrifices, and together we are nonetheless locating, targeting and killing ISIS terrorists intent on maintaining their extremist hold on the area.”

Senior Pentagon officials and American commanders say that the Syrian Kurds will most most likely serve as the backbone of the allied forces on the ground in Syria for months to come.

Echoing earlier comments by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the commander of the United States Central Command, Basic Joseph L. Votel, mentioned in an interview last month that American forces would stay in eastern Syria, alongside their Syrian Kurdish and Arab allies, as lengthy as needed to defeat the Islamic State.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey was amongst these at the funeral of a soldier killed in the country’s operation in Syria.CreditAdem Altan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Pictures

“What we don’t want to do is leave a mess,” General Votel mentioned, anything “worse than what we identified.”

Coalition forces are attacking the last remnants of the Islamic State in the Euphrates River valley of Syria, near the Iraqi border. But as that campaign begins to wane, the American partnership with the Kurds is bringing it into ever-more-direct conflict with Turkey.

Even though the Turkish military incursion into Afrin has seized the world’s attention, American, NATO and Turkish officials have directed their eyes east, to the strategic city of Manbij.

House to a contingent of United States Unique Operations troops who are instruction and equipping Kurdish forces that manage the city, Manbij is increasingly emerging as the ultimate target of the Turkish operation and a far a lot more significant source of tension than the Afrin offensive.

A Turkish assault on Manbij could bring its forces into direct conflict with the Americans, with unpredictable results.

“It may possibly bring a direct military confrontation, as American forces are there,” mentioned Gonul Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “The death of even 1 American soldier might entirely break ties.”

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, raised Manbij when briefing Turkish journalists on Tuesday morning, having met the day just before with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson in France.

“Terrorists in Manbij are constantly firing provocation shots,” Mr. Cavusoglu said. “If the United States doesn’t cease this, we will cease it.

Mr. Tillerson mentioned the United States would maintain operating with Turkey to stabilize the predicament and address its security issues.

The level of concern about Turkish-American relations was reflected in the flurry of meetings this week in between officials of the two nations.

American officials, led by the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Jonathan R. Cohen, flew to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, for meetings scheduled for Wednesday, such as with security officials. They have been joined there by Rose Gottemoeller, the deputy secretary common of NATO, who was in Turkey for a planned, two-day go to.

In an interview with the NTV news channel, Ms. Gotemoeller treaded meticulously, saying that “Turkey has legitimate causes to be concerned about the Kurdish armed organizations in Syria,” but adding that “one should maintain a balance between the threat and the reaction to it.”

Turkey has extended complained about American support for Syrian Kurdish militias, which it says have emboldened the Kurdish separatist movement that Ankara considers a threat to its territorial sovereignty and is prepared to go to wonderful lengths to counteract. Turkish officials say that this has allowed weapons and support to reach the outlawed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which is regarded a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe and has waged a decades-extended insurgency in Turkey.

Turkey, which shares a extended border with Kurdish-controlled locations of northeastern Syria, has been particularly incensed by the Kurdish militias’ seizure of Arab villages and towns in the region.

Manbij is in many respects the gateway to those areas, a regional center some miles west of the Euphrates. It is now beneath the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, and has been given that final August, when it expelled the Islamic State.

Robert S. Ford, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and a former Ambassador to Syria, wrote in an analytical column that Turkey’s military operations in Syria demonstrated the issues of the American position. Turkey’s brushoff of American issues made the United States look weak, Mr. Ford wrote, adding that some Kurdish observers have been accusing America of getting an unreliable ally.

“Over the longer term, it is hard to see how the U.S. will safe its stated political goal of stabilization in eastern Syria and genuine governance reforms in Syria,” he wrote.

Mark Landler and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Carlotta Gall from Istanbul. Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Brussels, and Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon.

A version of this report appears in print on , on Page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. Struggles to Please two Fighting Buddies in ISIS War. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe


Published at Wed, 24 Jan 2018 02:30:18 +0000

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