Pentagon cautions Turkey over new operation against Syria Kurds

Erdogan said he would begin an operation against the Kurdish units. (AFP)
Updated 13 December 2018
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Pentagon cautions Turkey over new operation against Syria Kurds

  • The warning came after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would soon begin a mission targeting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)
  • Turkey says the YPG is a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)

Any unilateral military action in northern Syria would be “unacceptable,” the Pentagon said Wednesday after Turkey announced it would launch an operation against a US-backed Kurdish militia.

The warning came after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would soon begin a mission targeting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers a “terrorist” group.

“We will start an operation to free the east of the Euphrates from the separatist terrorist organization in the next few days,” Erdogan said during a speech in Ankara, referring to territory held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

American forces have worked closely with the YPG under the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, which has played a key role in the war against the Daesh extremist group

The Pentagon has repeatedly warned that any fighting between the Turks and the SDF is a dangerous distraction from the core US mission in Syria of fighting Daesh.

Pentagon spokesman Commander Sean Robertson said any unilateral military action in northeast Syria would be a “grave concern,” as it could potentially jeopardize US troops working with the SDF in the region.

“We would find any such actions unacceptable,” he said in a statement.

Turkey says the YPG is a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.

“The target is never American soldiers but terrorist organization members active in the region,” Erdogan told the audience at a defense industry summit.

Flashpoint

American forces are with the SDF east of the Euphrates as well as in the flashpoint city of Manbij, which is west of the river.

“We should not and cannot allow Daesh to breathe at this critical point or we will jeopardize the significant gains we have made alongside our coalition partners and risk allowing Daesh to resurge,” Robertson said.

The YPG also said a Turkish offensive would be to the benefit of Daesh.

“The (Turkish) threats coincide with the advance of our forces against the terrorists, this time with the entrance into the town of Hajjin,” YPG spokesman Nuri Mahmud said.

The SDF launched an offensive on September 10 to expel IS from the Hajjin pocket, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River close to the Iraqi border.

“Any attack on the north of Syria will have a direct impact on the battle of Hajjin. The forces who are fighting (there) will return to defend their areas and their families,” Mahmud said.

Washington’s relationship with the YPG, seen as a key ally, is one of the main sources of tensions between the United States and NATO member Turkey.

Ankara has repeatedly lambasted Washington for providing military support to the Kurdish militia.

Erdogan has previously threatened to attack areas held by the YPG. In a bid to avoid any clash, the NATO allies agreed a “roadmap” for Manbij in June.

Erdogan’s comments came a day after the Pentagon announced the setting up of US observation posts on the northeast Syria border region intended to prevent altercations between the Turkish army and the YPG despite calls from Ankara not to go ahead with the move.

Erdogan claimed Turkey was not being protected from terrorists but “terrorists were being protected” from possible action by Turkey.

Elizabeth Teoman, analyst at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), said Erdogan may be threatening the attacks “to compel a change in US policy regarding the US observation posts along the Syrian-Turkish border.” 

She added that “Turkey may attempt to target YPG rear areas without a definitive US presence in the form of an observation posts.”

Turkey has previously launched two operations in northern Syria. The first offensive began in August 2016 with Turkish forces supporting Syrian opposition fighters against IS and was completed by March 2017.

Then in January 2018, Turkish military forces backed Syrian rebels to clear the YPG from its northwestern enclave of Afrin.

In March, the operation was completed with the capture of Afrin city.


Egypt’s historic Wafd party eclipsed under El-Sisi’s rule

The Wafd party supports Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. (AFP/File)
Updated 22 min 5 sec ago
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Egypt’s historic Wafd party eclipsed under El-Sisi’s rule

  • The Wafd party was set up in the early 20th century
  • Critics say the party lost its liberal orientation under president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi

CAIRO: A century after Egypt’s March 1919 revolution, the prominent Wafd party credited with leading popular demands to end the British occupation, has now been largely sidelined on the country’s political scene, analysts say.
A one-time liberal opposition force with a mass following, Wafd is considered Egypt’s oldest surviving party, having started its political life under the then monarchy during the early 20th century.
But in recent times critics say the party’s role has descended into irrelevance under the rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
“The party has completely lost its lustre and no longer attracts liberals,” said political science professor at Cairo University Hassan Nafaa.
“Wafd still lives on the credit of its historic track record.”
Since its founding in the wake of the 1919 revolution, the party quickly rose through Egypt’s political echelons leading several governments which were largely at odds with the king.
It remained for years the face of Egyptian politics before being dismantled along with others amid the rise of the military rule in Egypt in 1952.
It was not until more than 20 years later that Wafd rose again from the ashes rebranding itself as the “New Wafd” under late president Anwar Al-Sadat.
But Wafd MP Fouad Badrawi maintains his party still has “impact” on the ground despite the political blows it has received over the years. “It has been through multiple ups and down over the years, but it is still surviving,” he said.
The “New Wafd” claims to embrace the principles of the old party with civil rights and freedoms at its core.
Critics however argue that Wafd has lost its liberal essence by supporting El-Sisi.
“It is not possible for any party in connection with the current regime ... to claim to be liberal,” Nafaa said.
Under El-Sisi, Egyptian authorities have curtailed freedoms and launched a crackdown on dissent. Tens of thousands of political opponents have been arrested and charged.
In January, Amnesty International said Egypt’s stepped up crackdown on dissent has made the country “more dangerous” than ever for peaceful critics.
Badrawi, who is also a senior Wafd member, however maintains that the party adheres to its liberal policies, dismissing rights group’s accusations as “baseless.”
“We (as the Wafd party) don’t object for the sake of objection. We only raise objections when the people or the nation are in danger,” Badrawi said.
Another core value of the old Wafd was its support for secular governance.
To this day, the party’s motto is still “religion is for God and the nation is for all.” Its emblem remains the cross interlinked with the crescent moon, symbolic of national unity.
This secular spirit was blurred after the party forged alliances with the Muslim Brotherhood group on several occasions since its resurrection.
“Its alliance with the Brotherhood damaged its image and reduced its popularity,” said Nafaa.
Wafd has also backed general-turned-president El-Sisi since his rise to power after the military ouster of former Islamist president Muhammad Mursi, who hails from the Brotherhood.
In the 2018 elections, the party threw its support behind El-Sisi who ran virtually uncontested winning 97 percent of the vote.
Wafd currently holds 43 seats in the 596-seat parliament which convened in 2016, two years after El-Sisi took office.
As an established party, it counts prominent businessmen among its ranks and is considered to be well financed compared to others.
“Wafd has some 220 branches and more than 500,000 members nationwide,” said Wafd spokesman Yasser Al-Hodeibi. Although it is not clear whether all the party’s members are active.
It also possesses the only partisan newspaper, according to Hodeibi.
Despite its ample financial capabilities, the party failed to field a candidate in the 2018 elections.
But it has nonetheless promised to run a candidate in the upcoming elections in 2022.
In recent weeks, the overwhelming majority in parliament including Wafd MPs approved in principle possible constitutional amendments that would extend El-Sisi’s rule beyond 2022.
“We are preparing three prominent figures so that one of them could potentially run the race,” said Hodeibi.
Nafaa believes a Wafd candidate will stand little to no chance if they are running against El-Sisi.
“It will be a candidate to justify the elections,” Nafaa said. “This will be another blow to the party’s image.”