Washington will not allow Turkish army into Manbij, says Kurdish leader

A convoy of US forces armoured vehicles drives near the village of Yalanli, on the western outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Manbij. (AFP)
Updated 06 February 2018
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Washington will not allow Turkish army into Manbij, says Kurdish leader

LONDON: The commander of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has said Washington told YPG forces that it will not allow the Turkish army and Ankara-backed militants to enter Manbij, northeast of Aleppo.
Sipan Hemo said that his fighters had destroyed “11 Turkish tanks and other tanks that were operating under the Ankara-backed militants” and that “the only aid we are provided is from Damascus, and it’s medical, rescue and humanitarian aid.”
Since Jan. 20, Turkey, along with Syrian rebel factions, has launched an offensive “targeting members of YPG” — seen by Ankara as a “terror group” — in Afrin, along the northern Syrian borders. Ankara fears that the Kurds will establish self-rule on its borders along the lines of Iraqi Kurdistan.
More than 20,000 fighters from Syrian factions are participating in Operation Olive Branch, along with the Turkish Army and affiliated “special units” under the cover of the Turkish air force, after Ankara had the green light from Russia, which is covering its air force in the regions in the West of Syria’s Euphrates River.
In a phone call with Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday, Hemo said from Afrin: “Seventeen days after launching the offensive, Turkey has not achieved any of it goals. Turkey is now reviewing and calculating, as it considers the current situation a matter of irreversible survival. As Turks launched the operation, they thought they would achieve their goals within days but that has not yet happened.”
He added: “Turkey is looking to destroy the will of the Kurds. However, tactically, what it really wishes to do is to take control over Afrin and the eastern and western country sides of Aleppo up to the city of Aleppo, as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has always wanted to annex Aleppo, considering it part of the Ottoman Empire. However, Turkey has not achieved a significant military advance.”
Hemo, leading the “units” from his residence in Afrin, indicated that his fighters “destroyed 11 Turkish tanks and other tanks. Many Turkish and pro-regime soldiers were killed.”
Hemo and Syrian Kurdish commanders sent Asharq Al-Awsat videos of fighters launching tank attacks with anti-tank missiles between Afrin and Turkish borders, as well as pictures of raids launched on Kurdish cites in the region. Some reports indicated that the units have used long-range Grad rocket-launchers, but this has yet to be confirmed.
It was said that it was Washington that handed the American-made TOW missiles to the YPG — the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces — to fight Daesh initially and that Moscow and Damascus provided the Russian-made Konkurs missiles.
Hemo said: “The missiles are not American nor Russian, but thermobaric missiles we found on the black market and developed ourselves. The US said many times that it has nothing to do with Afrin and Al-Shahba’ regions near Aleppo. Our joint work with the US is limited to the fight against Daesh in eastern Euphrates river.”
When asked about Damascus’ support of the Kurdish units to fight the Turkish army, Hemo said: “Our position is very clear. Syria should be protecting the Syrian border from any Turkish assault. However, we were only provided with medical, rescue and humanitarian aid.”


Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

Updated 23 January 2019
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Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

  • The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict
  • Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday vowed to coordinate their actions more closely in Syria.
“Cooperation between Russia and Turkey is a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability,” Erdogan said in translated comments at a joint press conference after their talks, which lasted around three hours.
“With our Russian friends we intend to strengthen our coordination even more.”
“We agreed how we’ll coordinate our work in the near future,” Putin said, calling the talks which included the countries’ defense ministers “effective.”
At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin addressed Erdogan as “dear friend,” saying that their countries “work on issues of regional security and actively cooperate on Syria.”
Erdogan used the same term for Putin and said “our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region.”
The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict.
Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month about pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria.
Putin said that if carried out, the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria “will be a positive step, it will help stabilize the situation in this restive area.”
Turkey has also welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal, but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces labelled terrorists by Ankara has upset ties between the NATO allies.
Erdogan had said on Monday he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria, suggested by Trump.
The US-allied Kurds, who control much of the north, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.
Putin said Wednesday that Russia supports “establishing dialogue between Damascus officials and representatives of the Kurds.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week said that Damascus must take control of the north.
The northwestern province of Idlib earlier this month fell under the full control of a jihadist group dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The Russian foreign ministry said earlier Wednesday that the situation in the province remained of “serious concern.”
Putin said that the leaders discussed the situation in Idlib “in great detail today.”
“We have a shared conviction that we must continue jointly fighting terrorists wherever they are, including in the Idlib zone,” the Russian leader said.
Erdogan said that the countries will wage a “lengthy fight” in Syria.
Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the planned US pullout has led to another key step in Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control.
Kurdish forces who were left exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw have asked the Syrian regime for help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.
The Kremlin hailed the entry by Syrian forces into the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years after Kurds opened the gates.
Moscow plans to organize a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran early this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.
Putin said Wednesday the next summit would be held “in the near future” in Russia, saying the leaders still needed to agree the time and location with Iran.
The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.
Ties between Russia and Turkey plunged to their lowest level in years in November 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.
But after a reconciliation deal in 2016, relations have recovered at a remarkable speed with Putin and Erdogan cooperating closely over Syria, Turkey buying Russian-made air defense systems and Russia building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.