EU urges Turkey to refrain from unilateral military action in Syrian Kurdistan

BRUSSELS,— The European Union’s foreign policy chief on Saturday asked Turkey to forgo any unilateral military action in Syrian Kurdistan, where Ankara has threatened a fresh offensive against a US-backed Kurdish militia.

“The statements of a possible Turkish military operation in northeast Syria are a source of concern,” Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

“We share the goal of ending violence, defeating terrorism and promoting stability in Syria and the wider region. We expect the Turkish authorities therefore to refrain from any unilateral action likely to undermine the efforts of the Counter-Daesh Coalition or to risk further instability in Syria,” she said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkey will launch a new operation in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) within days against Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which have Washington’s support but which Ankara considers a terrorist group.

The Pentagon warned Wednesday that any unilateral military action in northern Syria would be “unacceptable”.

Mogherini, calling Turkey “a critically important actor in this crisis and in the region”, said that “as the fight against Daesh is entering its final stages, all parties must work towards the goal of ensuring its upcoming defeat”.

Any Turkish military move against YPG would be complicated by the likelihood of Ankara’s armies coming face to face with US troops deployed with the Kurdish militia.

Although Turkey and the US are NATO allies, their relationship has come under strain in recent years, notably as Washington’s help for the Kurds triggered Ankara’s anger.

On Friday, Erdogan appeared to stick to his guns, saying that Turkey was “determined to bring peace and security to areas east of the Euphrates” river in northern Syria.

Following Erdogan’s operation warning, the Pentagon on December 12, said any unilateral military action in northern Syria would be of “grave concern” and “unacceptable“.

The main Syrian Kurdish-led militia warned on Thursday that threats by Turkey’s president to launch a new military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria will negatively impact their fight against the Islamic State group.

Last Friday, the Kurdish-led fighters captured the last town of Hajin held by the Islamic State group, after days of intense battles in the militants’ single remaining enclave in eastern Syria, activists said.

U.S. regards the Kurdish Democratic Union Party PYD and its powerful military wing YPG/YPJ, as key ally against Islamic State IS and the most effective fighting force against IS in Syria and has provided them with arms, air support as well as the military advisers.

The YPG has seized swathes of Syria from Islamic State.

Ankara has previously launched two operations in Syrian Kurdistan.

On August 24, 2016 Turkish troops entered the Syrian territory in a sudden incursion which resulted in the occupation of Jarablus after IS jihadists left the city without resistance. Most of Turkish operations were focused only on Kurdish forces.

In 2016, the Turkish troops entered northern Syria in an area some 100 km east of Afrin to stop the Kurdish YPG forces from extending areas under their control and connecting Syrian Kurdistan’s Kobani and Hasaka in the east with Afrin canton in the west.

Then in January 2018, Turkish military forces backed pro-Ankara Syrian mercenary fighters to clear the YPG from its northwestern enclave of Afrin.

In March 2018, the operation was completed with the capture of the Kurdish city of Afrin.

The flags of Turkey and Syrian rebel groups were raised in the Kurdish Afrin city and a statue of Kurdish hero Kawa, a symbol of resistance against oppressors, was torn down.

Ankara fears the creation of a Kurdish autonomous region or Kurdish state in Syrian Kurdistan could encourage separatism amongst its own Kurds.

In 2013, the PYD — the political branch of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — has established three autonomous Cantons of Jazeera, Kobani and Afrin and a Kurdish government across Syrian Kurdistan in 2013.

On March 17, 2016, Kurdish authorities announced the creation of a “federal region” made up of those semi-autonomous regions in Syrian Kurdistan.

Syrian Kurds on December 30, 2016 have approved a blueprint for a system of federal government in Syrian Kurdistan, reaffirming their plans for autonomy in areas they have controlled during the civil war.

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