The US has deployed troops to Syria’s northeast border with Turkey in an attempt to prevent an escalation of fighting between the Turkish forces and Kurdish militia units that followed Turkish airstrikes hitting two Kurdish-held areas in Syria and Iraq.
“Coalition forces are conducting joint patrols along the northeastern Syria-Turkey border to assess reports from both the [Kurdish] SDF and Turkey regarding skirmishes and cross-border fires between their respective security forces,” an official from the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) Public Affairs Office told RT via email, confirming the deployment.
“The patrols’ purpose is to discourage escalation and violence between two of our most trusted partners in the fight to defeat ISIS [Islamic State terrorist group (IS, former ISIS/ISIL)] and reinforce the Coalition’s commitment to both Turkey and the SDF,” the CJTF–OIR statement added.
The Coalition also called on both Turks and Kurds to “remain focused on the fight to defeat ISIS, which is the greatest threat to regional and worldwide peace and security.”
The joint patrols were also indirectly confirmed by the Pentagon. “We have US forces that are there throughout the entirety of northern Syria that operate with our Syrian Democratic Force partners,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told journalists on Friday, as reported by AP.
“The border is among the areas where they operate,” Davis also said, adding that the US wants Kurdish militia, including the Kurdish-dominated alliance of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to focus on the liberation of the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital in Syria, and “not to be drawn into conflicts elsewhere.”
A senior Kurdish official, Ilham Ahmad, also told AP that the US forces began patrolling the border region Thursday in addition to their reconnaissance flights in the area. He said that the current US deployment was temporary but did not rule out a possibility of it becoming permanent.
Meanwhile, photos of the US armored personal carriers driving on a rural road in the village of Darbasiyah were posted by journalists and Kurdish activists in social networks.
The escalation of tensions in the border region was caused by a series of the Turkish airstrikes carried out on April 25 that hit Iraq’s Sinjar region and northeastern Syria. Turkey claimed it targeted “terror hubs” infiltrated by members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey considers to be a terrorist group.
The strikes claimed the lives of a number of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia fighters and civilians in Syria and resulted in casualties among forces under the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq.
Between 20 and 30 US-backed Kurdish fighters were killed in those incidents, according to various estimates. Turkey said 70 PKK militants were killed in the strikes, as reported by Reuters. Both Syrian YPG and Iraqi Peshmerga Kurdish militias condemned the attack.
The United States has urged all sides to show restraint and focus their efforts on fighting the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group. US State Department spokesman Mark Toner also said Washington had expressed “deep concern” over the Turkish airstrikes.
In the meantime, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has remained steadfast as he said that Turkey’s operations would continue “until the last terrorist is eliminated.”
Kurdish forces appeared to be dissatisfied with the American reaction to the incident, as YPG spokeswoman Nesrin Abdullah criticized the US and warned that the Kurdish militia could withdraw their forces from Raqqa if this incident is not addressed.
“Our people are expecting a response from us on why the coalition is not showing Turkey a concrete reaction. If the coalition does not show a concrete reaction, then we will withdraw our forces from Raqqa,” she told a local Kurdish media.
Since April 25, the YPG and the Turkish forces have traded artillery fire along the Syrian border with Turkey. Clashes between the Turkish military and the Kurdish militia were also reported Wednesday.
The US is sending its troops to the contact line between Turkish forces and Kurdish units in Syria. In March, some 200 US marines backed with howitzers and Stryker armored vehicles were reportedly deployed to the Syrian town of Manbij liberated from Islamic States by the SDF. The move came following Turkey’s threats to retake the city from the SDF as the Turkish government said it would not allow the town to remain under Kurdish control.