Trump, Erdogan discuss secure zone in Syria as Turkey vows to continue fight against Kurdish militia

In a tweet, Trump also warned the Kurdish forces not to “provoke Turkey.” (File/AFP)
Updated 14 January 2019
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Trump, Erdogan discuss secure zone in Syria as Turkey vows to continue fight against Kurdish militia

  • Donald Trump tweeted earlier that it “Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds”
  • Turkey responded to the tweet saying “it is a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds with the PKK, which is on the US terrorists list, and its Syria branch PYD/YPG”

ISTANBUL/WASHINGTON: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump on Monday discussed the establishment of a secure zone in northern Syria cleared of militia groups, the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

Speaking by phone, the two emphasised the need to complete a roadmap regarding Syria's border town of Manbij, as well to avoid giving any opportunity to elements seeking to block the planned withdrawal of US forces from Syria, it said.

Earlier, Trump threatened Turkey with economic devastation if it attacked a US-allied Kurdish militia in Syria, and proposed the creation of a safe zone.

But Turkey vowed to continue fighting the militia  which it views as a terrorist group.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Twitter that there was "no difference" between the Daesh group and the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia. "We will continue to fight against them all."

“Mr @realDonaldTrump It is a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds with the PKK, which is on the US terrorists list, and its Syria branch PYD/YPG,” Kalin also wrote on Twitter in response to Trump’s tweet. 

Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of Syria has left the United States’ Kurdish allies vulnerable to an attack from Turkey. Ankara views the Kurdish forces as terrorists aligned with insurgents inside Turkey.

In a tweet, Trump also warned the Kurdish forces not to “provoke Turkey.”

The US withdrawal has begun with shipments of military equipment, US defense officials said. But in coming weeks, the contingent of about 2,000 troops is expected to depart even as the White House says it will keep pressure on Daesh.

Once the troops are gone, the US will have ended three years of organizing, arming, advising and providing air cover for Syrian, Kurdish and Arab fighters in an open-ended campaign devised by the Obama administration to deal the militants, also known as Daesh, a lasting defeat.

“Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining Daesh territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions,” Trump tweeted. “Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds.”

Trump’s decision to leave Syria, which he initially said would be rapid but later slowed down, shocked US allies and angered the Kurds in Syria. It also prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and drew criticism in Congress. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, called the decision a “betrayal of our Kurdish partners.”


Suspected militants kill 7 US-backed fighters in Syria: commanders

Updated 35 min 5 sec ago
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Suspected militants kill 7 US-backed fighters in Syria: commanders

  • Manbij is a former Daesh stronghold that is now ruled by a military council affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces
  • Daesh has vowed to carry out revenge attacks against the SDF
BEIRUT: Suspected militants killed seven US-backed fighters in the northern Syrian city of Manbij, its military council said on Tuesday, days after the Daesh group’s “caliphate” was declared defeated.
Manbij is a former Daesh stronghold that is now ruled by a military council affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US-backed Kurdish-led alliance which declared victory over Daesh in its last redoubt in eastern Syria on Saturday.
At around midnight (2200 GMT) on Monday, gunmen opened fire at fighters manning a checkpoint at the entrance to the city, killing seven, the council said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Council spokesman Sherfan Darwish said it could be a revenge attack by Daesh sleeper cells.
“After the victory over IS, we have entered the phase of sleeper cells,” Darwish said.
“These sleeper cells are being activated and carrying out attacks but we will foil their operations.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said the attack was probably the work of Daesh, which would make it “the first attack of its kind” since the SDF declared the defeat of the caliphate last week.
Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman said it was also the bloodiest attack in Manbij since January 16, when 19 people, including four US service personnel, were killed in a suicide bombing claimed by Daesh.
Daesh has vowed to carry out revenge attacks against the SDF for the six-month offensive which culminated in the militants’ defeat in the village of Baghouz, close to the Iraqi border, on Saturday.
The Observatory said hundreds of SDF members had been killed in attacks believed to have been carried out by Daesh sleeper cells since August.
Manbij is also a major point of contention between the Kurds, who lead the SDF, and neighboring Turkey, which is deeply opposed to their autonomous administration in northeastern and parts of northern Syria.
The city is one of the few areas west of the Euphrates that remains under Kurdish influence after Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies overran the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in March last year.
In December, Ankara threatened to launch a new offensive to dislodge the People’s Protection Units (YPG) — the Kurdish force that forms the backbone of the SDF — from the entire length of the border.
The YPG is considered a terrorist group by Ankara because of its links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the outlawed rebel group that has fought a deadly insurgency for self-rule in southeastern Turkey since 1984.