Syria: Turkey pounds Kurdish militias, rebels advance

Syrian Crisis: rebels advance against ISIS, 15 killed in explosion
Turkish army tanks make their way toward the Syrian border town of Jarablus, Syria August 24, 2016

About 100 Turkish rockets pounded a group of Kurdish fighters allied to a US-backed militia in northern Syria on Friday, as rebel forces continued to advance fighting both Islamic state and the Kurdish militias. rebels  

The confrontation between Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and Kurdish militias fighting the Islamic State group has escalated as both sides race to be the first to expel the armed group from the northern Syrian city of al-Bab.

On Wednesday, Turkey launched dozens of air strikes on the American-backed Kurdish fighters, highlighting the conflicting agendas of NATO members Ankara and Washington in an increasingly complex battlefield.

Turkey said between 160-200 Kurds were killed in the strikes, but a war monitor said only nine died.

An adviser to the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), who gave his name as Osama Abu Zayd, told Reuters news agency Friday’s clashes were fierce and widening as they try to push Kurdish fighters out of the northern Aleppo countryside.

“Two days ago the [Kurdish fighters] tried to exploit our battle against Daesh [ISIS] to advance towards Marea,” Abu Zayd said. Marea is a town in Turkey-backed rebel territory on the way to al-Bab.

“What is happening today is a natural response to these separatist groups,” Abu Zayd added.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Friday Turkey’s activities in Syria are aimed at destroying “terrorist organisations” and securing its border, adding all operations are discussed with coalition partners.

Ahmad Araj – a political representative for the Kurdish fighters allied to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia – said fighters were now under attack both from ISIS and Turkey.

He said more than 150 rockets on Friday hit areas they had pushed ISIS out of this week.

“Today at 10am Turkish shelling began… There was an attack and the clashes have continued since morning,” said Araj. “Their rockets are not targeting Islamic State, rather they are targeting our forces in areas liberated [from ISIS].”

Rebel forces advance

At the same time, rebel forces launched on Friday an offensive on the Democratic Union Party (PYD)-affiliated Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) in the area located southwest of Marea city in Aleppo northern countryside.

Colonel Ahmad Othman chief of Sultan Murad Division, operating within Euphrates Shield Operations Room, reiterated his accusation of SDF with targeting the Free Syrian Army (FSA)’s locations in the newly liberated villages near Marea. This led opposition’s factions to launch an attack on PYD’s locations and on what is called Jaysh al-Thuwar in the villages of Om Hawsh and Harbal.

Col. Othman highlighted that opposition fighters’ attack comes in retaliation for the frequent attacks of SDF and their attempts of hindering the advancement of Euphrates Shield fighters southward as fighters are heading to liberate al-Bab city the biggest and the last bastion for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Meanwhile, opposition fighters captured a number of farms surroundings of the villages of Om Hawsh and Harbal, southwest of Marea, amid reports that opposition fighters are heading to liberate Tel Rif’at city, which was taken by PYD at the outset of the current year.

Conflicting goals

The United States has backed the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their fight against Islamic State, infuriating Ankara, which sees the umbrella group’s dominant YPG militia as an extension of Kurdish PKK militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

Turkey, a major backer of the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad, entered the Syrian conflict in August, using its armor and air power to help Free Syrian Army rebel groups take territory near the border held by Islamic State.

But it fears the YPG will try to connect three de facto autonomous Kurdish cantons that have emerged during the five-year war to create a Kurdish-run enclave in northern Syria, stoking the separatist ambitions of Kurds on its own soil.

Its intervention therefore also aimed to prevent Kurdish forces from gaining more ground.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.