U.S. forces conducted patrols in northeastern Syria near the Turkey border on Sunday, November 4, after renewed tensions between Ankara and Syrian Kurds following cross-border firing from Turkey.
Three armored vehicles carrying soldiers wearing the U.S. flag on their uniform arrived in the Kurdish-held northeastern border town of Al-Darbasiyah (Dirbêsiyê in Kurdish), AFP reported.
a Coalition's patrol is moving along the border between Rojava- Turkey, from Derbasiya city to Serekanyia city, this morning. pic.twitter.com/aE7YpV5gDN
— Mustafa Bali (@mustefa2bali) November 4, 2018
Turkey last week raised threats against Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, firing on their positions and again threatening a new offensive. Kurds spearhead the U.S.-led Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighting Islamic State in Syria.
Sunday’s patrol was the second in a week, after a U.S. forces on Friday patrolled in the Kobani and Tal Abyad areas further west, Coalition spokesperson Sean Ryan confirmed.
“The U.S. forces’ assurance patrols enable us to maintain safety and security in the region,” Ryan said, but are not carried out “on a regular basis.”
On Friday, a Coalition spokesperson told Reuters that it carries out regular military visits and had not increased patrols.
US military patrols on the Syrian-Turkish border in the east of the Euphrates, the area of Darbasiyah pic.twitter.com/rIo4Sn66HG
— MOHAMMED HASSAN (@MHJournalist) November 4, 2018
SDF says US patrols “directly linked” to Turkey attacks
The director of the SDF’s media center Mustafa Bali said the U.S. patrols, in coordination with the SDF, were directly linked to recent tensions between the Kurds and Ankara.
“They are not routine patrols. They are directly linked to these threats. The objective is to call on Turkey to stop its aggression,” Bali said.
Sunday’s patrols were headed towards Ras al-Ayn (Serê Kaniyê in Kurdish), around 50 km (30 miles) to the west of Al-Darbasiyah along the frontier, he said.
SDF commander Zinarin Kobani told ANHA on Sunday that the SDF met with Coalition officials immediately after the cross-border firing from Turkey began. She said that the SDF were assured that the Coalition would conduct patrols along the border between northern Syria and Turkey.
Coalition's patrols along the border between Rojava and Turkey. pic.twitter.com/fcRgPQf9Gn
— Mustafa Bali (@mustefa2bali) November 4, 2018
A week of cross-border firing began on October 28, when Turkey’s armed forces fired artillery shells into northern Syria, killing a Self-Defense Focrces (HXP) conscript. State media said the shelling targeted positions held by the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
The predominantly Kurdish YPG is considered by the Turkish government to be inextricably linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey, and is designated as a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies.
But the YPG is not a proscribed organization in the United Kingdom, United States or European Union and is the largest and key component of the SDF alliance which is waging the campaign against ISIS in Syria.
Cross-border firing, which appeared to involve light and medium weaponry rather than heavy artillery, continued throughout the week.
On Tuesday, at least one HXP member was killed and another injured near Tal Abyad; on Thursday, an 11-year-old girl was killed when several villages in the Kobani and Tal Abyad districts came under fire; and on Friday, a member of the Arab al-Sanadid Forces was shot twice in Tal Jehan and two ANHA journalists were injured in Tal Abyad.
Senior U.S. State Department official William Roebuck visited Gulistan Mohammed, one of the injured journalists, in hospital in Manbij on Saturday.
#William Robak to Klistan:You are a courageous woman and I wish you a speedy recovery
You are a brave girl and I wish you a quick recovery" #US State Department Ambassador William Robak told the Hawar news agency, which was hit while working on #Tal Abiad https://t.co/PSlLbpNUUc pic.twitter.com/0pp3B2J0fR
— Furat FM (@ManbijFm) November 3, 2018
Operation against ISIS suspended
The U.S. State Department has said it had been in touch with both the SDF and Turkey to push for de-escalation.
On Wednesday, the SDF said it temporarily halted its fight against Islamic State due to the Turkish military attacks along the Syria-Turkey border east of the Euphrates river.
Currently, the suspension “is a temporary one,” SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel told The Defense Post, but an SDF general command statement said continued Turkish attacks could lead to a “long-term suspension of our military campaign.”
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale met Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal Friday and “expressed concerns about recent events in northeast Syria, called for a halt of exchanges of fire in the area, and underscored the need for stability in northeast Syria to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS,” according to a State Department readout of the meeting.
#Turkish attacks on civilian people, in the safe areas of North & East #Syria interrupt #OperationRoundup to #DefeatISIS
International community & @coalition must stop these aggressions & attacks#SDF is committed to the operations and duty to #DefeatISIShttps://t.co/Jeas3rv7SP
— Kino Gabriel (@KinoGabriel1) November 4, 2018
Turkey threatens military operation in Syria
On Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey has completed planning for a new military operation in northern Syria to “destroy” the YPG.
Turkey has launched two offensives west of the Euphrates since 2016.
Operation Euphrates Shield captured ISIS-held territory to the west of the river and prevented the SDF from expanding territory it had captured from the jihadists around Manbij.
Earlier this year, Turkish military forces backed Syrian opposition fighters to retake the western Efrin region from the YPG in a two-month air and ground offensive called Operation Olive Branch. There was no ISIS presence in Efrin.
In what appeared to be an attempt by Washington to appease Turkey, Coalition and Turkish forces began combined patrols near Manbij on Thursday as part of a “roadmap” reached earlier this year that saw the YPG withdraw from the city.
Manbij Military Council (MMC) says Ambassador William Roebuck told @mmc2016c in meeting on Saturday that alliance between MMC and Coalition will continue https://t.co/8h0R719Kvo pic.twitter.com/YncOwa0zvL
— Wladimir (@vvanwilgenburg) November 3, 2018
The SDF captured Manbij from ISIS on August 12, 2016 after a 75-day battle later named “Operation Martyr and Commander Faysal Abu Layla” after the SDF commander.
Fighters from the YPG and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) made up the bulk of those deployed in the operation, and the YPG said it handed its points of control west of the Euphrates river to MMC as it had agreed ahead of the offensive. Turkey has long disputed this version of events, but the YPG announced on June 5 that it was pulling those remaining advisors from Manbij.
With reporting from AFP