Turkey steps up pressure on Kurds to retreat

More tanks sent into northern Syria as Ankara seeks to secure border region

Turkish army tanks and armoured personnel carriers moving toward the Syrian border, in Karkamis, Turkey. Photograph:  Halit Onur Sandal/AP Photo

Turkish army tanks and armoured personnel carriers moving toward the Syrian border, in Karkamis, Turkey. Photograph: Halit Onur Sandal/AP Photo

 

Turkey sent more tanks into northern Syria yesterday and demanded that Kurdish militia fighters retreat within a week as it seeks to secure the border region and drive back Islamic State with its first major incursion into its neighbour.

Syrian rebels, backed by Turkish special forces, tanks and warplanes, on Wednesday entered Jarablus, one of Islamic State’s last strongholds on the Turkish-Syrian border. Yesterday gunfire and explosions echoed around hills.

Some of the blasts were triggered as Turkish security forces cleared mines and booby traps left by retreating jihadists, according to Nuh Kocaaslan, the mayor of Karkamis, which sits across the border from Jarablus.

Rebel deaths

Three Syrian rebels were killed during the operation to take Jarablus, one of them when he opened the door of a house rigged with explosives, Mr Kocaaslan told reporters. There were no casualties among the Turkish troops.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and government officials have made clear the aim of “Operation Euphrates Shield” is as much about stopping the Kurdish YPG militia seizing territory and filling the void left by Islamic State as about eliminating the radical Islamist group itself.

Turkey, which has Nato’s second biggest armed forces, demanded that the YPG retreat to the east side of the Euphrates river within a week.

The Kurdish militia had moved west of the river earlier this month as part of a US-backed operation, now completed, to capture the city of Manbij from Islamic State (also known as Isis).

Militant fears

Ankara views the YPG as a threat because of its close links to Kurdish militants waging a three-decade-old insurgency on its own soil. It has been alarmed by the YPG’s gains in northern Syria since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, fearing it could extend Kurdish control along Turkish borders and fuel the ambitions of Kurdish insurgents.

Turkey’s stance has put it at odds with Washington, which sees the YPG as a rare reliable ally on the ground in Syria.

The US is attempting to defeat Islamic State in Syria while also opposing the government of president Bashar al-Assad in a complex, multi- sided five-year-old civil war.

– (Reuters)