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News > World

Turkey Continues Offensive in Syria amid US, Kurdish Concerns

  • Turkish soldiers drive a tank to Syria from the border city of Karkamis in the Gaziantep region on Aug. 27, 2016

    Turkish soldiers drive a tank to Syria from the border city of Karkamis in the Gaziantep region on Aug. 27, 2016 | Photo: AFP

Published 29 August 2016

Turkey is advancing toward areas controlled by the Kurdish-Arab force SDF as the U.S. calls on the country to focus on the Islamic State group.

Turkish-backed forces pushed deeper into northern Syria on Monday, advancing toward the city of Manbij, which was recently freed from the Islamic State group by a Kurdish-Arab force—a push that has drawn rebuke from Turkey's NATO ally, the United States, which said it was concerned the battle had shifted away from the extremist group.

Turkey Accused of Killing at Least 35 Civilians in Syria

At the start of Turkey's now almost week-long cross-border offensive, Turkish tanks, artillery and warplanes provided Syrian rebel allies with the firepower to swiftly capture the Syrian frontier town of Jarablus from Islamic State group militants.

Since then, Turkish forces have mainly pushed into areas controlled by fighters aligned to the Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF, a U.S.-backed coalition dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia.

Turkish-backed forces advanced on Manbij, a city about 30 km (20 miles) south of Turkey's border captured this month by the SDF with U.S. help. The Turkish military said it was also shifting operations westwards, which would take it into territory still under the Islamic State group control.

"Turkey is determined to take steps to guarantee its citizens' security at home and in neighboring countries," President Tayyip Erdogan said in a message on the eve of Tuesday's national Victory Day holiday. Operations would continue until all threats, including from the YPG, were removed, he added.

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter called on Turkey to stay focused on fighting the Islamic State group and not to target Kurdish elements of Syrian rebel forces, which Washington backs.

The Pentagon described the clashes, which it said were in areas where Islamic State is not located, as "unacceptable and a source of deep concern" and called on all sides to stand down.

A History of the Turkish-Kurdish Conflict

The news comes a day after a group monitoring the five-year-old conflict in Syria said 41 people were killed by Turkish air strikes as Turkish forces pushed south Sunday.

Meanwhile a U.S. official told AFP on condition of anonymity that all U.S.-backed Kurdish forces were now east of the Euphrates River, a key demand of Ankara, but said some other Kurdish forces who are not backed by Washington may still be in contested territory.

The Syrian government and its ally Russia expressed concern over the Turkish offensive. However, Turkish Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş stressed Monday that his country does not plan to stay in Syria, and that Damascus was informed through Moscow about Turkey's “Euphrates Shield Operation."

The operation is putting Ankara at odds with Washington at a time when Turkey is still reeling from last month's failed coup, which it says Washington was too slow to condemn.

The latest Turkish involvement in the Syria conflict came a few days after a deadly suicide attack in the southeastern city of Gaziantep killed at least 35 people and targeted a Kurdish wedding.

Several attacks have taken place in Turkey in the last year and many of them have been blamed on the Islamic State group.

The Syrian conflict has claimed the lives of more than 500,000 people, created millions of refugees, and helped the rise of the Islamic State group, which has used Syria to recruit fighters and as a base to plan attacks abroad.

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