Turkey US Militaries heading towards confrontation in Middle East
ANKARA/BEIRUT- President Tayyip Erdogan warned on Wednesday that Turkey would extend its military operation in Syria to the town of Manbij, a move that could potentially bring Turkish forces into confrontation with those of their NATO ally the United States.
Turkey’s air and ground operation, now in its fifth day, targets U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG fighters in the Afrin region and has opened a new front in Syria’s multi-sided civil war. A push toward Manbij some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin could threaten U.S. plans to stabilize a swath of northeast Syria.
Turkish forces and their rebel allies launched Operation Olive Branch in Afrin because Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of a militant Kurdish group that has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast.
“With the Olive Branch operation, we have once again thwarted the game of those sneaky forces whose interests in the region are different,” Erdogan said in a speech to provincial leaders in Ankara.
“Starting in Manbij, we will continue to thwart their game.”
Differences over Syria policy have already strained Turkey’s relations with Washington almost to breaking point. For the United States, the YPG is a key ally against both Islamic State jihadists and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
A Turkish operation in Manbij would be fraught with risk due to the presence of U.S. military personnel in and around the town. They were deployed there last March to deter Turkish and U.S.-backed rebels from attacking each other and have also carried out training missions in Manbij.
President Donald Trump plans to raise the U.S. concerns over the Turkish offensive in a telephone call with Erdogan expected on Wednesday, a senior U.S. official said.
In an interview with Reuters, Turkey’s government spokesman said he saw a small possibility that Turkish forces could come face-to-face with the U.S. troops in Manbij.
U.S.-backed Syrian fighters in the Manbij area have deployed to frontlines to confront any Turkish assault and are in contact with the U.S.-led coalition over defending the town of Manbij, their spokesman Sharfan Darwish said on Wednesday.