Turkey Asks U.S. to Force Kurd Fighters to Quit Syrian Town

Updated on
  • Foreign Minister Cavusoglu says Manbij next after Al Bab win
  • Minister says Syrian Kurdish militants should leave Manbij now

Turkey vowed to capture a Syrian town if the U.S. doesn’t clear out the Kurdish fighters who control it, signaling its patience has worn thin over Washington’s backing of the militia -- a partner in the campaign against Islamic State.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara that the town of Manbij was the next target for Turkish troops and their rebel allies in Syria once they take full control of the border town of Al-Bab from Islamic State militants. The strategy aligns with Ankara’s objectives when it sent its army into Syria in August: to quash the radical Sunni group -- and to keep Syrian Kurdish forces from linking up with Kurdish PKK separatists in Turkey.

“We have said that we would strike if the YPG fails to withdraw,” Cavusoglu said on Thursday, using the acronym of a prominent Syrian Kurdish militant group. “Our demand from the U.S. and its new administration is to have the YPG leave Manbij as soon as possible.” He added that he sees no risk of a “faceoff” with American troops in Manbij.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already declared that Manbij belongs to Arabs, not Kurds.

Turkey’s threat to attack Kurdish forces in the town threatens to drive a wedge between Turkey and the U.S. at a time when the two NATO allies are discussing possible cooperation in a major offensive against Islamic State’s self-declared capital of Raqqa to the southeast.
Ankara has vigorously objected to the U.S. backing for the Kurdish forces, which it says are affiliated with the PKK group it’s been battling in Turkey for more than three decades. Both Turkey and the U.S. consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization.

Read more: Turkey Said to Seek U.S. Support to Attack IS Syria Bastion

In the course of Syria’s war, Syrian Kurds have seized control of much of the northern Syrian territory along the 900-kilometer border with Turkey. Ankara fears that will embolden the separatist aspirations of Turkish Kurds.

Free Syrian Army rebels, who are backed by Turkey against Islamic State, would participate in Turkey’s operation against the YPG in Manbij, Cavusoglu said. “It is out of the question for us to concede on this,” he said. “The issue is very important for our national security.” The army has already clashed with Syrian Kurds at Turkey’s behest.

Cavusoglu also warned the U.S. against using Kurds in the operation against Raqqa.

“Our struggle against YPG or any other terrorist organization should not pit us against the U.S,” Cavusoglu said. “We don’t wish any of our allies to stand by terrorist organizations.”

On Wednesday, Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, head of the coalition effort against Islamic State, said he expects local Kurds to also participate in the operation to retake the jihadists’ stronghold.

(Updates with new quotes from Turkish foreign minister in fifth paragraph.)
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