ANKARA: Turkey on Thursday threatened to strike Syrian Kurdish militia forces if they do not withdraw from Manbij, a former bastion of Daesh extremists that has been taken over by predominantly-Kurdish forces.
“We will strike the YPG if they do not retreat,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists, referring to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units.
The YPG, which Ankara considers a “terrorist” organization, is backed by Washington as the most effective fighting force on the ground in the battle against Daesh.
Turkey launched a military campaign inside Syria in August, backing opposition fighters who captured a number of towns from Daesh, including Al-Bab near the Turkish border.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week said the next target would be Manbij — which is now controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a group dominated by Kurdish fighters that Ankara denounces as “terrorists.”
“We have not yet started our operation in Manbij,” Cavusoglu said.
Turkey has also said it wanted to work with its allies to capture Daesh bastion of Raqqa, but has ruled out any operation alongside the Kurdish militia.
“Let’s be realistic ... To carry out this (Raqqa) operation with YPG is to risk Syria’s future,” he said.
“We do not want our ally the US to continue cooperating with terror organizations that target us.”
Turkey has repeatedly said it will not allow a “terror corridor” along its southern border and is trying to prevent Syrian Kurdish militia from joining up its so-called “cantons” in the area.
Separately, a US-allied militia in northern Syria said on Thursday it would hand over villages on a front line where it has been fighting Turkish-backed fighters to Syrian regime control, under an agreement with Russia.
The villages will be surrendered to the Syrian regime in the coming days, an official in the Manbij Military Council told Reuters. An earlier statement by the council said the villages would be handed to Syrian border guards.
Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara the report was false, but added there was an agreement with Russia that the Syrian regime and opposition forces should not fight each other in that area.
The villages west of the city of Manbij have been a focus of fighting between the Turkish-backed fighters and the Manbij Military Council, the US-allied militia, since Wednesday.
In another development, Syrian warplanes carried out eight airstrikes in an opposition-held district of the mostly regime-controlled city of Homs on Thursday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, said the airstrikes killed two civilians and wounded more than 24 people in Al-Waer, as UN-sponsored peace talks continued in Geneva.
Although Homs, an early center of the uprising against President Bashar Assad, has been almost entirely held by the regime since 2014, Al-Waer, a western district, remains in opposition hands.
Opposition shelling killed two people and wounded six in the regime-held district of Al-Zahra on Thursday, the Observatory said.
A US general has, meanwhile, claimed that a Russian airstrike hit US-backed Syrian Arab forces who are part of the fight against Daesh.
Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend says an unspecified number of American troops were a few miles away, out of immediate danger but close enough to see their Syrian partners being hit.
Townsend said the Americans sent word that quickly reached Russian officials. Russia then acknowledged the problem and stopped bombing.
Townsend said Wednesday he believes the Russians thought they were striking a Daesh position. But Daesh fighters had left the village before the bombing and members of what the US calls the Syrian Arab Coalition had moved in.