Turkey warns US troops over Syria clash

ISTANBUL: Turkey on Sunday threatened to expand its operation against Kurdish militia in Syria to the town of the Manbij and even east of the Euphrates, warning that American soldiers risked being targeted in the area if they wore enemy uniform.
Turkey on January 20 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.
With the YPG a key ally of Washington in the battle against the militants, the campaign has seen a fellow Nato partner of the United States fighting an openly US-backed and US-armed force.
Beyond the northwestern enclave of Afrin, 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.
“If they (the YPG) do not withdraw from Manbij, then we will go to Manbij, we will go east of the Euphrates,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told CNN-Turk.
American troops have no presence in and around Afrin but they are present in Manbij and east of the Euphrates, where they have assisted the YPG in the fight against IS.
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.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said on Sunday that France and Turkey will be working in the coming weeks on a “diplomatic road map” for an end to the nearly seven-year war in Syria.
The announcement came after Macron spoke by telephone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday which discussed in particular Turkey’s operation against Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in Syria.
Macron had incensed Turkish officials last week by saying in a newspaper interview that France would have a “real problem” with the campaign if it turned out to be an “invasion operation”.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Saturday that Erdogan had sought to reassure Macron during their talk, saying Ankara had no eye on Syrian territory.
“The two presidents agreed to work on a diplomatic road map for Syria in the coming weeks,” the Elysee Palace said.
“To that end, discussions between France and Turkey, which both hope for a political solution overseen by the UN, will increase in the coming days.”
On January 20 Turkey launched its “Olive Branch” operation in northern Syria against the YPG, which it brands a terror group. On Sunday it said it could expand the incursion beyond the northwestern enclave of Afrin, to the town of Manbij and possibly east of the Euphrates river.
But Turkey’s Western allies do not classify the YPG as a terror group and have worked closely with its fighters in the battle against IS militants. Erdogan has sought to build a strong relationship with Macron despite rocky ties with the EU, visiting Paris in January for talks. — Agencies