Turkey threatens new offensive on US-backed Kurdish groups in Syria
The Pentagon says US observation posts seek to prevent altercations between the Turkish army and the YPG
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is threatening to imminently launch a new offensive on Washington-backed Kurdish groups in Syria after the Pentagon confirmed on Tuesday that US forces had established observation posts in parts of northern Syria overlooking the Turkish border.
An offensive on US-backed forces in Syria is likely to strain ties between Nato allies Washington and Ankara, and may endanger the lives of US personnel who are now stationed in unidentified positions along the border.
The move could also derail efforts by the US-led coalition and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to push ISIS out of a holdout near the Iraqi border.
"We will begin our operation to rescue the east of the Euphrates (river) from the separatist organization within a few days," Mr Erdogan said, referring to the People's Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish group stationed in positions near Turkey's border. "Our target is not the American soldiers it is terror organizations that are active in the region."
Turkey has in the past month shelled Kurdish positions across the border in Syria, east of the Euphrates River, and has, on numerous occasions, threatened to drive out the YPG, which it describes as a "terrorist offshoot" of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Turkish threats have prompted the US to establish observation posts along the border, in a move aimed at preventing a confrontation along the frontier.
Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the US-led coalition said in an emailed statement to The National on Tuesday that US forces are securing locations for manned observation posts "to support security and stability on the border, and improve the Coalition's situational awareness to enable the continued fight against ISIS."
"The goal is keeping all parties focused on ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS, our common enemy that still poses a significant threat to Syria, Iraq, Turkey and our partners around the world," he added.
It is not immediately clear where and how many observation posts have been established so far. Iraqi Kurdish outlet Rudaw reported on Friday that US forces have established at least five posts along the border.
Mr Erdogan's statement, at an address to a defense industry meeting on Wednesday, comes one day after the Pentagon announced US observation posts on the northeast Syria border, saying the move is intended to prevent altercations between the Turkish army and the YPG.
"We know that the aim of the radar and observation posts set up by the United States (east of the Euphrates) is not to protect our country from terrorists, but to protect the terrorists from Turkey," Erdogan said.
Turkish forces have already waged two cross-border campaigns against Syrian Kurdish forces, in 2016 and earlier this year.
Updated: December 12, 2018 04:56 PM