Spotlight: U.S. in embarrassing situation in northern Syria between Turkey, Kurds

Source: Xinhua| 2018-11-02 22:52:44|Editor: Liangyu
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DAMASCUS, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- The United States seems to be stuck in an awkward situation in northern Syria between its two rival allies, the Turks and Kurds, as it is trying to ease the tension by deploying forces to separate them.

The U.S. has been backing the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for a long time in the battles against the Islamic State (IS), managing to defeat IS in its de facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria in 2017.

The U.S. support continued and the SDF and allied Kurdish forces are now fighting IS in its last pocket on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour near Iraq.

The SDF had suffered a setback in the first wave of attack that was launched on Sept. 10 as the IS launched a counter-offensive recently and retook all the areas that had fallen to the SDF, which is now amassing more capable forces to have another round of battles against the last IS-controlled areas in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zour near the Iraqi border.

The plan was smoothly moving forward with activists expecting the second attack to be more powerful and to achieve its intended purpose of eliminating IS in the eastern Euphrates.

However, Turkey, which has for long been so outright about its enmity to the Kurdish forces of the People's Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the SDF, said it was ready to launch offensives against the Kurds on the eastern side of the river.

The Turkish forces have actually started shelling positions of the Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria over the past few days, pushing the U.S.-backed SDF to temporarily halt the preparations of the second stage of the battles for 24 hours before resuming them on Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said in a report Friday that the Turkish forces shelled a Kurdish-controlled village in the countryside of Raqqa province on Thursday evening.

The Britain-based watchdog group said preparations are ongoing on the western bank of Euphrates by Turkish forces and its Syrian rebel allies to launch offensives on the Kurdish forces.

Despite the tension that would grow with the U.S., Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that his country had finalized plans for a "comprehensive and effective" operation that would target the U.S.-backed Kurdish groups in the east of the Euphrates River.

The Turkish stance reflects the desire to defeat the Kurdish militia in the eastern Euphrates after they had already pushed them to retreat from the western side of the river in two cross-border operations in 2016 and 2018.

In this particular situation, the U.S. has become in an embarrassing situation between Turkey, which is a key NATO ally, and the Kurds, Washington's reliable allies on the ground in Syria with which they are making territorial gains against IS in eastern Syria.

To ease the tension, the U.S. on Friday has deployed forces along the line between the two sides of the Euphrates River to contain the situation, according to the Observatory.

It's also running joint patrols with Turkey between the Kurdish-led Manbij Military Council and the Turkish-backed rebels in the countryside of the city of Manbij.

Manbij in the northern countryside of Aleppo is controlled by the Manbij Military Council, which is backed by the Kurdish-led SDF, while the city's countryside is controlled by the rebels allied with Turkey within an umbrella called the Euphrates Shield.

The Observatory said the U.S. is also deployed on the borderline between Turkey and Syria in the area between the rivers of Euphrates and Tigris.

Additionally, U.S. forces are also deployed in the Kurdish-controlled city of Ayn Al-Arab, or Kobane, in the northern countryside of Aleppo on the eastern side of Euphrates to prevent any confrontation.

Ayham Majid, a Syrian political expert in the Kurdish issues, told Xinhua that the U.S. is now embarrassed as the SDF is being shelled by the Turkish forces.

He said that running patrols between Kurds and the Turkish-backed forces is an attempt by the U.S. to try to contain the situation.

The expert said there seems to be a determined Turkish decision in terms of fighting the Kurds in the eastern bank of Euphrates and Manbij.

Majid believes that relative calm would take place after the joint patrols until the end of the year, noting that in two-month time, the Kurdish forces could capture the remaining IS-held pocket in eastern Syria.

After that, the expert continued, the Turkish side would be more serious in targeting the Kurds.

"In next two months, the Kurds would have the chance to consolidate their negotiations with Damascus as the only way to protect the areas in the eastern Euphrates is through the deployment of the Syrian government forces," he said.

Throughout the more than seven-year-long war in Syria, Turkey has made it clear it won't tolerate a growing Kurdish influence in northern Syria near the Turkish border.

Ankara has already backed Syrian rebels to push the Kurdish forces out of the northern enclave of Afrin earlier this year.

The Syrian government has recently opened the door for negotiations with the Kurdish forces, which want to keep running an autonomous region in northern Syria. The government at the same time stressed that all Syrian areas should return under the government control.