Turkey says seeks no clash with U.S., Russia, but will pursue Syria goals

January 23, 2018 By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ellen Francis One America News Network

Source Turkey says seeks no clash with U.S., Russia, but will pursue Syria goals

{I have to agree with one of the comments on this article, “Erdogan, who lacked the cajones to take on ISIS when they were just over the border, now sends his forces to attack the Kurds – who fought and turned back ISIS .” Besides, when will Turkey learn it cannot have it both ways. – LS}

ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkey seeks to avoid any clash with U.S., Russian or Syrian forces but will take any steps needed for its security, a Turkish minister said on Tuesday, the fourth day of its air and ground offensive against Kurdish forces in northwest Syria.

The United States and Russia both have military forces in Syria and have urged Turkey to show restraint in its campaign, named Operation Olive Branch, to crush the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG in the Afrin region on Turkey’s southern border.

The operation has opened a new front in Syria’s multi-sided civil war and could threaten U.S. plans to stabilize and rebuild a large area of northeast Syria – beyond President Bashar al-Assad’s control – where the United States helped a force dominated by the YPG to drive out Islamic State fighters.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated Ankara’s demand that Washington stop supporting the YPG, and said President Tayyip Erdogan would discuss the issue by telephone on Wednesday with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Ankara has said the operation will be swift, but Erdogan’s spokesman signaled an open-ended cross-border campaign, saying it would end only when some 3.5 million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey could safely return home.

Turkey’s military, the second largest in NATO, conducted air strikes and artillery barrages against targets in Afrin, and its soldiers and allied Syrian rebels tried to push into the Kurdish-held district from west, north and eastern flanks.

With heavy cloud hindering air support in the last 24 hours, advances have been limited and Kurdish fighters have retaken some territory. Turkish troops and the Syrian fighters have been trying to take the summit of Bursaya Hill, overlooking the eastern approach to Afrin town.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said 23 civilians had been killed in Turkish shelling and air strikes, and thousands were fleeing the fighting.

However, Syrian government forces were preventing people from crossing government-held checkpoints to reach the Kurdish-held districts of nearby Aleppo city, it said.

Erdogan told French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday Turkey was taking all measures to prevent civilian casualties in the Afrin operation, sources at the presidential palace said. The two leaders agreed to stay in close contact on the issue.

YPG THREAT

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Turkey’s offensive was distracting from efforts to defeat Islamic State.

Ankara says the jihadist group is largely finished in Syria and that the greater threat comes from the YPG, which it sees as an extension of a Kurdish group that has waged a decades-long separatist insurgency inside Turkish own borders.

Erdogan has said Turkey aims to destroy YPG control not just in the Afrin enclave but also in the mainly Arab town of Manbij to the east.

“Terrorists in Manbij are constantly firing provocation shots. If the United States doesn’t stop this, we will stop it,” Cavusoglu was reported as saying on Tuesday.

“Our goal is not to clash with Russians, the Syrian regime or the United States, it is to battle the terrorist organization,” broadcaster Haberturk quoted him as saying.

“I must take whatever step I have to. If not, our future as a country is in jeopardy tomorrow… We will not live with fear and threats,” Cavusoglu said.

He tweeted that a lieutenant had become the second Turkish soldier to be killed in the operation. The Observatory said 43 rebel fighters fighting alongside the Turks had also been killed, as well as 38 on the Kurdish side.

Later on Tuesday Cavusoglu discussed the crisis with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a conference in Paris.

Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said the military operations would continue until Syrian refugees in Turkey “return home safely and the separatist terror organization has been cleansed from the region”.

The Kurdish-led administration of northeastern Syria appealed for a mass mobilization in defense of Afrin. “We call on all our people to defend Afrin and its pride, and contribute in all the related activities,” it said, without elaborating.

A U.N. report, citing local sources, said about 5,000 people in the Afrin district had been displaced as of Monday but that some of the most vulnerable had been unable to flee. It said the United Nations was ready to provide aid to 50,000 in Afrin.

MANBIJ FEARS

Washington’s central goal in the region is to prevent Turkey from driving Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S.-backed umbrella group that is dominated by the YPG, out of Manbij, U.S. officials say.

Unlike Afrin, where no U.S. forces are stationed, there are some 2,000 U.S. military personnel deployed in the eastern region of Manbij, which extends for 400 km (250 miles) along Turkey’s border.

YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud said Turkish shelling on Monday had killed three people in the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn, pointing to the risk of widening hostilities along the frontier.

Ras al-Ayn is located in Kurdish-controlled territory some 300 km (190 miles) east of Afrin. It was one of several locations in northeast Syria targeted in cross-border attacks from Turkey on Monday, Mahmoud said.

The United States hopes to use the YPG’s control in northern Syria to give it the diplomatic muscle it needs to revive U.N.-led talks in Geneva on a deal that would end Syria’s civil war.

Ankara has been infuriated by the U.S. support for the YPG, which is one of several issues that have brought ties between Washington and its Muslim NATO ally close to breaking point.

“The future of our relations depends on the step the United States will take next,” Cavusoglu said.

NATO joined the chorus of calls for Turkish restraint.

“From NATO’s perspective, we want to say that the reaction (Turkey’s military operation) should be proportionate and in a limited time and area,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller told Turkey’s NTV channel during a visit to Ankara.

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