ISTANBUL: Turkey on Saturday sharply criticised a US plan to put observation posts in northern Syria so as to help prevent clashes between Turkish forces and a Kurd militia backed by Washington.
“I am of the opinion that these measures will only complicate further an already complicated situation,” said Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, quoted by state-run news agency Anadolu.
“We have told our American counterparts about our unease several times,” Akar said, noting that he recently raised the issue with Joe Dunford, head of the US joint chiefs of staff.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday that Washington wanted the observation posts along Syria’s northern border with Turkey to help minimise tensions between the Turks and Washington’s Kurdish allies in the fight against the Islamic State group.
The aim was to ensure the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which includes the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, “are not drawn off that fight.”
“They will be very clearly marked locations day and night so that the Turks know where they’re at,” he said, noting that the decision was taken in close cooperation with Turkey. Akar, again urging Washington to halt support for the YPG, said the observation posts would serve no use.
Turkey “will not hesitate to take the necessary measures on the other side of its borders to face up to the risks and threats which could result,” he added. The SDF announced on November 11 it would resume its offensive against IS after having previously called it off due to tensions with Turkey, which had shelled its positions in northern Syria.
Syria’s long-oppressed Kurdish minority has established a semi-autonomous region in the north of the country, which has been wracked by conflict since 2011. Turkey refuses to recognise the territory on its border, fearing it will stoke the separatist ambitions of Kurds in its own country.
Ankara has carried out two operations against Kurdish forces since 2016, the last against the border enclave of Afrin, which it seized in March and is now controlled by pro-Turkish Syrian rebels.
IS attack kills 24 US-backed fighters in east Syria: The Islamic State group has killed 24 US-backed fighters in two days in an attack launched from its embattled holdout in eastern Syria, a war monitor said Saturday.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Kurdish-led alliance backed by the US-led coalition is battling to expel the jihadists from a pocket in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on the Iraqi border.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said the jihadists broke out of that pocket on Friday to attack a nearby village where SDF fighters and coalition advisers are based.
“IS launched a broad attack on the village of Al-Bahra next to its holdout, taking advantage of the fog,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Abdel Rahman said 24 SDF fighters were killed in the attack, and violent clashes continued to rage on Saturday as coalition air planes carried out air strikes in the area.
Twenty-seven IS jihadists were killed in clashes and air strikes in the same period, according to the Observatory, which says it relies on sources inside Syria for its information.
The monitor said coalition raids has also killed 17 civilians, including five children, in the IS-held pocket since Friday.
Coalition spokesman Sean Ryan said he had not received any reports of civilian casualties, and insisted its air strikes had been “very limited due to the weather”.
The anti-IS alliance has repeatedly denied previous reports of civilians killed in its air strikes, and said it does its utmost to avoid targeting non-combatants.
Deir Ezzor activist Omar Abu Leila said the attack on Al-Bahra was “very scary” and that IS fighters were able to move quickly “taking advantage of the fog”.
IS overran large swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a “caliphate” in land it controlled but has lost most of it to offensives by multiple forces in both countries.
In Syria, the jihadists are largely confined to the pocket in Deir Ezzor, but they also have a presence in vast Badia desert that stretches across the country to the Iraqi border.
Since 2014, the US-led coalition has acknowledged direct responsibility for over 1,100 civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq, but rights groups put the number much higher.
Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since its started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
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