New cross-border clashes erupted on Friday between the Turkish army and members of Syrian Kurdish militias backed by the US and resulted in killing 11 militants from the group that Turkey sees as a terrorist organization.
Turkey’s military operation in Syria named Euphrates Shield was launched in August 2016 to drive Islamic State militants from its border and prevent Kurdish fighters from gaining ground and strengthening their positions. This operation has changed the balance of power in northern Syria and added more tension to the already complicated area.
The Syrian rebels, backed by Turkey, have managed to retake the ISIS stronghold of Jarabulus, alongside with al-Rai to the west and Dabiq city. Finally, they were able to force control on al-Bab on February 23 after months of siege and clashes.
At the same time, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, which is dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia, is supported by the US as the latter uses them in its war against ISIS.
Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of Kurdish PKK militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.
Air strikes carried out by the US-led coalition and a long fight by the SDF forces ended in recapturing Manbij from the control of the Islamic State (ISIS) group last year.
Turkey had plans to complete further to take back Manbij and move towards Raqqa, which the US opposed.
However, the Turkish National Security Council (NSC) declared surprisingly in March ending the Euphrates Shield operation saying that it has achieved its goals without revealing further information.
But the tension with Kurds didn’t end there, as Turkey said it will block any attempt by the Kurdish militias to deliver weapons to the PKK and delivered a deadly blow to them on 25 April killing more than 10 militants in Syria and Iraq.
Rockets fired on Friday from an area controlled by the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) in Syria targeted a Turkish army command post in the Ceylanpinar district of Turkey’s southern Sanliurfa province.
The Turkish army fired back and killed 11 “terrorists”, it said. There were no reports of casualties on the Turkish side.
This was the third day in a row that clashes have been reported across the tense border after the Turkish airstrikes.
Seven other militants were killed in similar retaliation a day earlier, according to the Turkish military. The mortar shells hit an army command post in the Akcakale district of Sanliurfa province on April 27, injuring one soldier lightly.
The military said in an earlier statement that 11 border posts had been subjected to 13 attacks from YPG-controlled areas.
Six of the attacks came on April 27, the military said in a statement the same day, adding that the Turkish forces reciprocated.
Friday’s clashes came as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the YPG that Turkey would fire back against any assault and thwart the creation of any Kurdish state in northern Syria.
“Are we going to leave them unanswered? We are doing what is necessary,” Erdogan said in Istanbul.
“We will continue to take any measures as long as the threats persist. We will not allow efforts to form a terror corridor at our southern border,” Erdogan said.
The Turkish airstrikes
Turkish military carried out air strikes against PKK fighters in Iraq’s Sinjar region and northeast Syria on Tuesday, killing at least 70 militants, according to a Turkish military statement.
A statement released by Turkey’s air force said that it carried out the air strikes against PKK targets located in the Sinjar Mountains region in northern Iraq and in Karachok Mountains in northeastern Syria on Tuesday.
The targets were hit to prevent the PKK from sending “terrorists, arms, ammunition and explosives to Turkey,” the statement said, adding that the operation was conducted “within the scope of the international law”.
“At least six people were killed, five from the Peshmerga and a sixth from Asayish [Rojava],” Lieutenant-General Jabbar Yawar, secretary-general of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish government, told AFP news agency.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group which tracks the Syrian war, said that at least 18 YPG fighters were killed in the air strikes in Syria’s Hasaka province.
The YPG in northern Syria said on its Twitter account that Turkish warplanes targeted the headquarters of the General Command of the YPG in Mount Karachok, near the city of Derik in Hasaka.
The YPG also reported that a media center, a local radio station, communication headquarters and some military institutions were hit.
“As a result of the barbaric strikes by the Turkish warplanes at dawn today against the YPG center … 20 fighters were martyred and 18 others wounded, three of them critically,” said spokesman Redur Xelil.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the US and Russia were informed of the attacks, but the US State Department said it was deeply concerned by the air strikes, which it said were not authorized by the US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
“We have expressed those concerns with the government of Turkey directly,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.
“These air strikes were not approved by the coalition and led to the unfortunate loss of life of our partner forces.”
Toner said the strikes hurt the coalition’s efforts to go after the militants. “We recognize their concerns about the PKK, but these kinds of actions frankly harm the coalition’s efforts to go after ISIS and frankly harm our partners on the ground who are conducting that fight.”