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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Syrie. Les États-Unis soutiennent sans réserve l’offensive turque

by Pierre Barbancey

The United States in Total Support of the Turkish Offensive

Translated Wednesday 31 August 2016, by Henry Crapo

Ankara attacks not so much Daesh, but Kurdish forces. Clashes are multiplying between the Turkish army and Syrian Democratic Forces. Forty civilians were killed in Turkish bombing south of Jarablos.

25 August. The offensive by the "rebels" and the by the Turkish army has been sudden in their reconquest of Jarablos, in the north of Syria. Photo by Bulent Kilic, AFP

While some observers spoke of a "blitz" in describing the offensive launched by Turkey in Syria, they may well revise their judgment. The border crossing by Turkish troops and tanks occurred on Wednesday. The operation is called "Shield of the Euphrates." Officially, it was to help Syrian rebels to retake the Syrian border town of Jarablos, occupied until now by the organization called the "Islamic State" (Daesh), so that the Kurdish forces of YPG will not be able to settle there, thereby managing to unify all their territory. The offensive of the "rebels" and the Turkish army was "lightning". The rapidity with which they of regained Jarablos stunned experts, since the capture of Kurdish towns held by Daesh in northern Syria, such as Manbij or Ayn al-Arab, required long battles.

A secret agreement was made between the jihadists and the Turkish army

Reportedly, in reality, there was almost no fighting, which could mean that a secret agreement was made between the jihadists and the Turkish army or with the rebels, because a great majority of the latter are Islamists belonging to different groups. Thus, the official announcement of the capture of Jarablos was made by Ahmad Othmane, commander of Sultan Murad group, mainly composed of Turkmens. This is a brigade formed from Jabhat Ahfad al-Sultan (the Front of descendants of sultans) and participates in Fatah Halab, a rebel military coalition created in April 2015 and close to the Muslim Brotherhood. Sultan Murad received in late 2015, from the US, TOW anti-tank missiles. Some jihadists have left for Turkey, others have gone back to Raqqa and surrounding villages.

Since then, the fighting has intensified, and it appears that the real purpose of the Turkish offensive is to prevent progress of the Kurdish forces. This weekend, the clashes were particularly deadly. One Turkish soldier was killed, but the air strikes carried out by Ankara struck two villages, killing about forty civilians. The coming days will be crucial. Especially since the group Sultan Mourad, always supported by Turkey, announced that it intends to retake Manbij, where Daesh was dislodged by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDS, in which one finds the YPG and Arab groups).

The cards are being reshuffled in the region

It is particularly worrying that Manbij is located on the west bank of the Euphrates and that the United States, which sent planes to support the Turkish offensive, has changed their tone. "We have said very clearly" that these Kurdish forces "must recross the river" and "will not have, under any circumstances, the support the United States if they do not meet their commitments, once and for all," said the US Vice President Joe Biden, in Ankara, with the Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, at his side. Washington, said to be on cold terms with Ankara, fully supports Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The latter has surprisingly changed his position on the Syrian issue since the coup attempt of July 14. Probably because he now believes that the creation of a Kurdish entity on its borders is more dangerous than the fall of Bashar Al Assad [1]. No doubt the recent clashes in Hasaka between government and Kurdish forces are to be placed in this new context.

The cards are being reshuffled in the region. Ankara moved closer to Russia and Iran, both supporters of power in Damascus, even though today, Moscow says it is "preoccupied" by the Turkish intervention. But Turkey’s membership in NATO, not being questioned, permits Erdogan to force the United States to accept his orientation. It is also the result of the unconditional support that the West - primarily France - has continued to offer to Turkey. Whether it is a question of the repression of Kurds in the southeast of the country, or of the porosity of borders enabling jihadists to enter Syria to join the ranks of Daesh, or even - especially - the management of the migrant issue, which is the main card up the sleeve of Erdogan, the Kurds in Turkey and Syria could well pay the price.

[1Translator’s note: I suspect the reporter intended to say "more dangerous than the continued rule of Bashar Al Assad", since it has long been a major element of Turkish policy, in alliance with the US, to unseat the Syrian president.

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