Turkey warns of clash risk with US troops in Syria's Manbij

Turkey warns of clash risk with US troops in Syria's Manbij
With the YPG a key US ally in the battle against IS, the Turkish campaign has seen a fellow NATO partner fighting an openly US-backed and US-armed force.
3 min read
04 February, 2018
Turkey launched operation "Olive Branch" on 20 January in the Syrian region of Afrin. [Getty]
Turkey on Sunday threatened to expand its military operation against Kurdish militia in the Syrian town of Manbij, warning that American troops risked being targeted if they wore enemy uniform.

Turkey on 20 January launched the "Olive Branch" operation in the northern Syrian region of Afrin, fighting Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia which Ankara sees as a terror group.

The YPG also controls the key strategic town of Manbij to the east and then a long strip of territory east of the Euphrates up to the Iraqi border.

With the YPG a key ally of Washington in the battle against the Islamic State, the Turkish campaign has seen a fellow NATO partner of the United States fighting an openly US-backed and US-armed force.

"If they (the YPG) do not withdraw from Manbij, then we will go to Manbij, we will go east of the Euphrates," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told CNN-Turk

US troops have no presence in Afrin but have assisted the YPG against IS in Manbij and east of the Euphrates.

Bozdag emphasised that Turkey wanted no confrontation with American troops but said US soldiers risked being caught up in clashes if they appeared in uniforms of the YPG.

This appeared to be a reference to past images of American troops in northern Syria showing them with YPG insignia.

"We do not at all want any clash with the US in Manbij, east of the Euphrates or in any other place," said Bozdag. 

"But the US has to be aware of Turkey's sensitivities. If US soldiers wear terrorist uniforms or are among the terrorists in the event of an attack against the army then there is not going to be the chance to make a distinction," he said.  

"If they come up against us in such a uniform we will see them as... terrorists."

There have been heavy clashes with the YPG in the Afrin campaign so far and Bozdag was speaking after seven Turkish troops were killed on Saturday, including five in a tank attack, the heaviest single day loss of the campaign so far.

Pro-government Turkish media said the tank attack was carried out with an anti-tank missile given to the YPG by the US, but this has yet to be confirmed.

"The supposed ally the United States knows no limit in treachery," said the Yeni Akit daily. 

Kurdish protests in Europe

On Saturday thousands of Kurds protested outside the Council of Europe in Strasbourg over Turkey's offensive in north-western Syria, calling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan an "assassin".

According to the organisers, 7,000 demonstrators marched in Strasbourg holding placards and shouting "Erdogan, dictator" and "silence kills"

"We want to sound the alarm because the Kurds in Afrin have fought against the Islamic State and are being massacred today. The silence of the European leaders is deadly," Suleyman Akguc, a protester, told AFP.

Meanwhile in Paris, police estimated 2,100 protesters marched on Saturday afternoon from the Gare de l'Est towards the Place de la Republique.

They displayed banners that read: "Defend Afrin = defend the women's revolution" and "Erdogan's Turkish fascism will be buried in Afrin".