Turkey claims to have killed at least 260 Syrian Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants in its on-going and open-ended offensive into the Kurdish-dominated Afrin region of northwest Syria, Turkish military officials said on Tuesday.
U.S. President Donald Trump plans to raise concerns with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call expected on Wednesday about Ankara’s offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG forces in Afrin, a senior U.S. official said.
French President Emmanuel Macron also voiced disquiet, a few hours after Turkey’s foreign minister said it wanted to avoid any clash with U.S., Russian or Syrian government forces during its offensive but would do whatever necessary for its security.
The air and ground operation has opened a new front in Syria’s multi-sided civil war and could threaten U.S. plans to stabilize and rebuild a large area of northeast Syria – beyond President Bashar al-Assad’s control – where Washington helped a force dominated by the YPG to drive out Islamic State militants.
Ankara has been infuriated by the U.S. support for the YPG, which is one of several issues that have brought ties between Washington and its Muslim NATO ally close to breaking point.
“The future of our relations depends on the step the United States will take next,” Cavusoglu said.
Turkey’s military, the second largest in NATO, has conducted air strikes and artillery barrages against targets in Afrin, and its soldiers and allied Syrian rebels tried to thrust into the Kurdish-held district from west, north and eastern flanks.
With heavy cloud cover hindering air support in the last 24 hours, advances have been limited and Kurdish militia have retaken some territory. Turkish troops and the Syrian fighters have been trying to take the summit of Bursaya Hill, overlooking the eastern approach to Afrin town.
Turkey’s intentions not only lie in Afrin but in driving out the YPG from the nearby town of Manbij to the east, where the Turks claim artillery shots are constantly launched into Turkish territory.
The Kurds dispute the claim that Turkey is fighting Islamic State fighters in Afrin only them. The Turkish government considers YPG to be a terrorist group.
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