Syrian Kurds Declare Turkish Threats an 'Act of War' as U.S. Troops Dig in for Long Stay

U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces captured the town of Hajin over the weekend, the largest urban area controlled by ISIS in the enclave

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U.S. army vehicles supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces, Hajin, Syria, December 15, 2018.
U.S. army vehicles supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces, Hajin, Syria, December 15, 2018.Credit: AFP

Update: Turkey says it will not let the U.S. hold it back in Syria

Fighting against the Islamic State group in its last enclave in eastern Syria “is going very well,” a U.S. official said Saturday as U.S.-backed Syrian fighters battled the extremists on the edge of the largest urban area they still hold.

Spokesman for the U.S.-led Coalition Col. Sean Ryan’s comments came a day after the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces captured the town of Hajin, the largest urban area controlled by ISIS in the enclave.

Ryan said ISIS still poses a threat and its fighters are regrouping, planting improvised explosives devices to slow the progress of SDF offensives. He added that the “end days” of ISIS in the enclave they hold near Iraq’s border are getting closer, however, “they still have the capability for coordinated attacks, and the fight is not over.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said SDF fighters are removing explosives in Hajin and fortifying their positions amid fighting on the eastern outskirts of the town.

SDF has been trying to take the enclave since it launched an offensive on Sept. 10. Since then, 932 ISIS gunmen, 545 SDF fighters and scores of civilians have been killed in the area, according to the Observatory.

The SDF offensive intensified over the past days under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition.

Turkish threats

 Syrian Kurdish parties said on Friday that Turkish threats to attack northern Syria amounted to a "declaration of war" and urged world powers to prevent an assault on the region.

"All the forces in north and east Syria...are asked to agree on strategies to confront this aggression," read a statement signed by Syria's main Kurdish parties and other allied groups.

Erdogan said last week that Turkey would launch a new operation within days against the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia which controls swathes of Syria's northern border region, in what will be Turkey's third military campaign in Syria in two years.

Ankara and Washington have long been at odds in Syria, where the United States has backed the YPG in the fight against Islamic State. Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist organisation and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The U.S. committed in September to keep troops in Syria indefinitely to bulster Kurdish forces in the northwest of the country in an effort to keep Iranian influence out of the area. According to the Washington Post, the deployment amounts to U.S. troops being in "overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana."

Turkey has complained over the slow implementation of a deal with Washington to pull YPG Kurdish fighters out of Manbij, which lies in mainly Arab territory west of the Euphrates, back to the eastern bank of the river.

"Manbij is a place where Arabs live, but they have surrendered the area to the terror organisation," Erdogan told members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in a speech in Istanbul. "Now we are saying that you should cleanse, remove them, or else we will enter Manbij. I am speaking very clearly."

Erdogan said Turkey was also determined to bring "peace and security" to areas east of the Euphrates, where the YPG controls an area stretching more than 400 km (250 miles) along the border towards Iraq.

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