The Kurdish militias in Syria are raising U.S. flags on its facilities as shields to prevent possible attacks on the areas they recently took control of from ISIS, according to local Syrian opposition sources on the ground.
A number of YPG militants, the armed wing of the Kurdish PYD party, continue to hold villages, including the village of Rafe, north of the city of Manbij, 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the west bank of the Euphrates River.
By displaying the U.S. flags, they are sending the false signal that U.S. forces are also present and to prevent the Turkish forces and Syrian rebels from attacking their positions, said the sources.
However, the groups were supposed to vacate the region after having seized control of the strategic city from ISIS last month.
Weeks ago, the US-backed SDF group, which consists Kurdish militias primarily, retrieved Manbij from ISIS hands. However, Turkey interfered to prevent the Kurdish militias from staying in the city and adding it to the areas they control.
Ankara regards the YPG and YPD as allies of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for an autonomous Kurdish region inside Turkey since the 1980s.
Turkish operations in Syria
Turkish forces have been pressing on with a two-pronged operation inside Syria against ISIS fighters and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) over the past two weeks.
Operation “Euphrates Shield”, in which Turkish troops and tanks entered Syria in support of rebels for the first time, began on Aug. 24 with the swift capture of Jarablus, a town a few km (miles) inside Syria that was held by Islamic State.
Turkey has long said it wants a “buffer zone” in the area, although it has not used the term during this incursion. As well as driving out the ultra-hardline Islamists, it also wants to prevent Kurdish militias from taking territory that will let them join up cantons they control in northeast and northwest Syria.
After seizing Jarablus, the Turkish-backed rebels have advanced up to 10 km (6 miles) south of the border town, rebel sources and a group monitoring the war said.
Turkey demanded that the YPG retreat to the east side of the Euphrates within a week.
Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik said preventing the Kurdish PYD party – the political arm of the YPG – from uniting Kurdish cantons east of Jarablus with those further west was a priority.
After that warning, Syrian rebels backed by Turkish forces started advancing towards Manbij.
“Islamic State should be completely cleansed, this is an absolute must. But it’s not enough for us … The PYD and the YPG militia should not replace Islamic State there,” Isik told Turkish broadcaster NTV.
“The PYD’s biggest dream is to unify the western and eastern cantons. We cannot let this happen,” he said.
“If the PYD does not retreat to east of the Euphrates, we have the right to do everything about it,” the minister said.