Turkish forces deepen push into Syria, draw US rebuke over their target
BEIRUT/KARKAMIS, TURKEY – Turkish-backed forces pushed deeper into northern Syria on Monday and drew a rebuke from NATO ally the United States, which said it was concerned the battle for territory had shifted away from targeting Islamic State.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter called on Turkey to stay focused on fighting Islamic State militants and not to target Kurdish elements of Syrian rebel forces, which Washington backs. The White House said a continued Turkish push would complicate the fight against Islamic State.
At the start of Turkey’s now almost week-long cross-border offensive, Turkish tanks, artillery and warplanes provided Syrian rebel allies with the firepower to capture swiftly the Syrian frontier town of Jarablus from Islamic State militants.
Since then, Turkish forces have mainly pushed into areas controlled by fighters aligned to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition that encompasses the Kurdish YPG militia and which has been backed by Washington to fight the jihadists.
“Turkey is determined to take steps to guarantee its citizens’ security at home and in neighboring countries,” President Tayyip Erdogan said in a message on the eve of Tuesday’s national Victory Day holiday.
Operations would continue until all threats, including from the YPG, were removed, he said.
A group monitoring the tangled, five-year-old conflict in Syria said 41 people were killed by Turkish air strikes as Turkish forces pushed south on Sunday. Turkey denied there were civilian deaths, saying 25 Kurdish militants had been killed.
“We have called upon Turkey … to stay focused on the fight against ISIL and not to engage Syrian Defense Forces, and we’ve had a number of contacts over the last several days,” Carter said in a media briefing, using an acronym for Islamic State.