Erdogan rejects claims US-backed Kurds have retreated
ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, September 2, dismissed claims that a US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia had retreated east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria following Turkish strikes against the group.
Turkey had previously warned that it would continue bombarding the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara sees as a terror organization linked to separatist rebels, unless they moved east.
"Right now, people say they have gone to the east but we say no, they haven't crossed," he said during a speech in Ankara.
Erdogan's remarks appeared to be in reference to comments made by a US defense official to Agence France-Presse Monday, August 29, that Kurdish forces had "all" moved east of the Euphrates.
He added that Ankara would be aware if the militia had retreated.
Ankara's operation against the YPG aims to prevent the militia joining up with a Kurdish-held area to the west of the Euphrates, which Turkey fears would lead to the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria and bolster separatists rebels on the Turkish side of the border.
"No one can expect us to permit a terror corridor to be created. We will not allow it," the president added, referring to a desire by Syrian Kurdish groups to unite the 3 "cantons" already in place in northern Syria.
The Turkey-Kurdish fight is yet another complication in the tangled civil war that is ravaging Syria as both Turkey and the US seek to retake territory from Islamic State jihadists by supporting different proxy groups.
The YPG are backed by the US, which has provided it with training and equipment to fight the Islamic State group in Syria.
A week ago, Turkey launched an unprecedented military operation to clear the border area of the Islamic State group as well as halt the westward advance of the YPG, potentially complicating Washington's strategy to defeat the jihadists.
On Thursday, September 1, Ankara said it had cleared dozens of villages of "terrorists" after taking the key border town of Jarabulus without much resistance on the first day of the offensive on August 24.
During the operation, dubbed "Euphrates Shield", Turkey has also carried out strikes against the YPG.
Ankara regards the YPG as a sister organization to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency that has left over 40,000 dead since 1984.
While the YPG is allied with the US against ISIS, the PKK is proscribed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the Washington. – Rappler.com