Kurds in Syria call for U.S. help as Turkey threatens ground assault

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BAGHDAD — The U.S.-backed Syrian enclave braced for attacks by Turkish forces after its top commander called on Washington to do more to counter a threatened ground offensive.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s forces launched air, drone and artillery attacks on towns and cities in northeastern Syria for the fourth day on Wednesday. According to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed force in the area, around 18 civilians and three soldiers have been killed in the attacks.

The escalating violence has sent shockwaves through a region that is no stranger to threats from its neighbor. The Turkish government has been battling Kurdish militants at home for decades, and considers the Kurdish-dominated SDF a threat to its national security. Turkish forces last attacked the enclave in 2019, after what Erdogan’s administration saw as a green light from then-President Donald Trump.

Turkey has blamed Kurdish militants for the Istanbul bombing.

Erdogan is threatening to repeat the effort with fresh ground forces, calling the attacks retaliation for an attack last week on a busy thoroughfare in central Istanbul that killed six people and wounded dozens. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

“Those who condemn the attack in Istanbul with crocodile tears have shown their true colors by their reaction to this operation,” Erdogan told members of his party gathered in Ankara. We started right after.” “We have a right to take care of ourselves.”

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A US-led military coalition joined the fight against Islamic State forces in 2014 after the militants seized a large swath of territory in Syria. Three and a half years after the group’s official defeat, hundreds of U.S. troops are still stationed in territory outside Syrian government control.

It was a partial U.S. withdrawal in 2019 that reshaped the map of northeastern Syria once again, paving the way for an attack on Turkey as it turned territory once patrolled by U.S. forces into Turkish-backed territory. The Syrian militia force and elsewhere were handed over to the Syrian army. His Russian backers

In an interview with The Washington Post, General Mazloum Kobani Abdi, the top commander of the SDF and Washington’s staunchest ally in Syria, urged Western allies to strongly oppose further Turkish attacks, arguing that the West Pressure can stop ground action.

“It is not news to anyone that Erdogan has been threatening a ground operation for months, but he can start this operation now,” said Mazloum, who went by his first name. This war, if it happens, will benefit no one. This will affect many lives, cause huge waves of displacement and create a humanitarian crisis.

As the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan nears completion, U.S. allies in Syria are watching warily.

Violence has put America in a bind. His decision to back a Kurdish-led ground force in the fight against Islamic State put him at odds with NATO ally Turkey, and he has since struggled to balance the commitments of the two.

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In a brief statement on Monday, the Biden administration called for de-escalation but did not condemn the violence. “The United States expresses its deepest condolences for the loss of civilian life in Syria and Turkey,” the State Department said.

As of Tuesday night, the SDF said at least 45 locations had been hit – among them several medical facilities and a school building. In the border town of Derek, Essam Abdullah, a reporter for the Kurdish Hawar news agency, was killed in a Turkish airstrike as he reported on an earlier attack in the same area. Colleagues found his body.

In a post on Twitter, SDF spokesman Farhad Shami reposted a message from Biden in 2019 accusing Trump of abandoning the US-backed force. Shami wrote, “The same thing is happening today under your presidency. “Our people and our forces have a right to know your position on Turkish aggression against our people.”

In Kobani, a town near the Turkish border, residents are sleeping in hallways as the strikes shake their windows. On Tuesday night, families packed their belongings into backpacks, fearing they might soon have to flee. Others dragged their mattresses to sleep in nearby gardens, hoping they would be safe there.

They usually have no idea what’s causing the explosions around them, just that more are likely to follow. Nasreen Salim, 32, said she spent the night running home to get blankets and then took her children to a clump of trees where other local families had gathered.

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“We were panicked; we were confused. We didn’t know when we would be targeted,” Saleem said, recalling the attacks as he hung his children’s clothes out to dry on Wednesday morning. “My only concern is my children. I can’t think of anything else. I don’t want them to hear these explosions.

Fearing that Washington’s interest in northeastern Syria is waning, the SDF has become increasingly dependent on the Syrian government and its ally Russia for protection against Turkey. Russia’s special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, said on Wednesday that Moscow’s “close contact” with Turkey’s defense ministry could defuse tensions.

As Turkish attacks continue, Turkey has also been shelled from Syria. On Monday, a child and a teacher were killed and six others were injured when a mortar fell in the border area of ​​Gaziantep province, Turkey. A five-month pregnant woman was also seriously injured in this attack.

Mazloum denied that the SDF was responsible for the attacks, saying the force only tried to defuse the situation. But in other public media, the SDF has vowed to retaliate. “They have killed many of our people, and we will retaliate,” Shami tweeted on Monday.

Mustafa al-Ali in Kobani, Syria contributed to this report.

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