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.


US military to present several options to Trump on Iran

Updated 43 min 53 sec ago

US military to present several options to Trump on Iran

  • Donald Trump will also be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war
  • The US response could involve military, political and economic actions

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon will present a broad range of military options to President Donald Trump on Friday as he considers how to respond to what administration officials say was an unprecedented Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.
In a White House meeting, the president will be presented with a list of potential airstrike targets inside Iran, among other possible responses, and he also will be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war, according to US officials familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The national security meeting will likely be the first opportunity for a decision on how the US should respond to the attack on a key Middle East ally. Any decision may depend on what kind of evidence the US and Saudi investigators are able to provide proving that the cruise missile and drone strike was launched by Iran, as a number of officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have asserted.
Iran has denied involvement and warned the US that any attack will spark an “all-out war” with immediate retaliation from Tehran.
Both Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence have condemned the attack on Saudi oil facilities as “an act of war.” Pence said Trump will “review the facts, and he’ll make a decision about next steps. But the American people can be confident that the United States of America is going to defend our interest in the region, and we’re going to stand with our allies.”
The US response could involve military, political and economic actions, and the military options could range from no action at all to airstrikes or less visible moves such as cyberattacks. One likely move would be for the US to provide additional military support to help Saudi Arabia defend itself from attacks from the north, since most of its defenses have focused on threats from Houthis in Yemen to the south.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized to a small number of journalists traveling with him Monday that the question of whether the US responds is a “political judgment” and not for the military.
“It is my job to provide military options to the president should he decide to respond with military force,” Dunford said.
Trump will want “a full range of options,” he said. “In the Middle East, of course, we have military forces there and we do a lot of planning and we have a lot of options.”
US Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Michigan, said in an interview Thursday that if Trump “chooses an option that involves a significant military strike on Iran that, given the current climate between the US and Iran, there is a possibility that it could escalate into a medium to large-scale war, I believe the president should come to Congress.”
Slotkin, a former top Middle East policy adviser for the Pentagon, said she hopes Trump considers a broad range of options, including the most basic choice, which would be to place more forces and defensive military equipment in and around Saudi Arabia to help increase security.
A forensic team from US Central Command is pouring over evidence from cruise missile and drone debris, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not finished. Officials are trying to determine if they can get navigational information from the debris that could provide hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Thursday that the US has a high level of confidence that officials will be able to accurately determine exactly who launched the attacks last weekend.
US officials were unwilling to predict what kind of response Trump will choose. In June, after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone, Trump initially endorsed a retaliatory military strike then abruptly called it off because he said it would have killed dozens of Iranians. The decision underscores the president’s long-held reluctance to embroil the country in another war in the Middle East.
Instead, Trump opted to have US military cyber forces carry out a strike against military computer systems used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to control rocket and missile launchers, according to US officials.