Not for the first time the Turkish army has attacked U.S.-backed forces in northeastern Syria on Sunday in yet another absurd contradiction of American policy in the region. It highlights the awkward fact that in northern Syria for over the past year one NATO country (Turkey) is at war with another NATO country’s proxy force, namely the Pentagon armed and trained Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, of which the YPG is a core part).
The new flair up of tensions comes as President Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan again vowed to eliminate “terrorists and separatists” from near its border. Speaking at the four-way Syria summit involving Russia, Germany, and France in Istanbul over the weekend, Erdogan said, “We will continue eliminating threats against our national security at its root in the Euphrates’ east as we have done so in its west.”
Notably the Saturday summit with two major European/NATO powers did not include the United States.
Syrian Kurdish groups, for their part, have accused Turkey of committing ethnic cleansing on Syrian soil in a bid to essentially annex territory while conducting a campaign of ‘Turkification’— a charge for which there’s ample evidence. As a new AFP report finds in the northwest Syrian town of Azaz: “From Turkish-language classes for Syrian children to the state-owned Turk Telekom company erecting its first cell towers on Syrian soil, Ankara’s role in the rebel-held region around Azaz has been expanding.”
The Turkish army shelled on Sunday positions held by the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, east of the Euphrates River, in a new spike in tension along the borders.
The report further noted the timing of Turkey’s shelling US-backed fighters east of the Euphrates, coming just after Erdogan, Putin, Macron, and Merkel met in order to talk Syria, and among other things shore up the shaky ceasefire over Idlib brokered between Turkey and Russia.
The fact that major European powers went to Istanbul to negotiate the future of Syria — all without the United States— represents a huge shift and diplomatic win for both Putin and Erdogan, both in Washington’s cross hair of late, especially over Syria policy.
The rare Turkish shelling east of the Euphrates comes a day after an international summit on Syria hosted by Turkey, which called for an inclusive political process and for creating conditions to allow the return of millions of refugees.
Thus Turkey seems to be signalling Washington that it is now firmly within Putin’s orbit on Syria — both Putin and Erdogan are interested in American forces getting booted from Syria, yet with separate geopolitical ends in mind.
The Turkish strikes hit the village of Zor Moghar, in rural northern Aleppo, across the Euphrates River that separates pro-Turkish Syrian rebel forces and the YPG. The Kurdish YPG issued a statement confirming one death in the “unprovoked” attack, and further said, “Any illegitimate attack against northern Syria will not go unanswered.”
Meanwhile the Pentagon was relatively silent on the matter, only saying the US-led Coalition would regain territory lost by its SDF allies, and added that the fighting was “difficult”. Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the coalition, said in a statement: “It is very difficult because we are in the last stages, where almost every (ISIS) fighter is in a suicide belt.”
And in another significant development, this week McGurk finally dropped the figleaf of the Pentagon’s justification for keeping over 2000 troops in northern Syria as “fighting ISIS” – but now says it is to “counter Iran”. This, as NATO member Turkey effectively remains at war with NATO member U.S. inside of Syria.