KARKAMIS, Turkey: Rebels supported by Turkey fought Kurdish-backed forces in north Syria yesterday, as Ankara ratcheted up its cross-border offensive by saying it had launched air strikes on Kurdish forces and Islamic State. Turkey’s government, which is fighting a Kurdish insurgency at home, has said the Syrian campaign launched this week is as much about targeting Islamic State as it is about preventing Kurdish forces filling the vacuum left when Islamists withdraw.
Turkish security sources said two F-16 jets bombed a site controlled by the Kurdish YPG militia, which is part of the broader US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition. The sources also said the jets hit six Islamic State targets. Ankara’s opponents said Turkish forces had targeted YPG-allied forces but that no Kurdish forces were involved.
On the ground, Turkish-backed Syrian rebels fought forces aligned to the SDF near the frontier town of Jarablus. Forces opposed to Ankara said Turkish tanks were deployed, a charge denied by Turkey’s rebel allies. Yesterday’s use of warplanes against what Turkey said was a Kurdish YPG militia target highlights its determination to prevent any Kurdish territorial expansion in north Syria.
Any action against Kurdish forces in Syria puts Turkey at odds with its NATO ally the United States, which backs the SDF and YPG, seeing them as the most reliable and effective ally in the fight against Islamic State in Syria. It adds complexity to the Syrian conflict that erupted five years ago with an uprising against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and has since drawn in regional states and world powers.
The Jarablus Military Council, part of the SDF, had said earlier yesterday that Turkish planes hit the village of Al-Amarna south of Jarablus, causing civilian casualties. It called the action “a dangerous escalation”. The Kurdish-led administration that controls parts of northern Syria said Turkish tanks advanced on Al-Amarna and clashed with forces of the Jarablus Military Council. But the Kurdish administration said no Kurdish forces were involved.
However, the leader of one Turkey-backed rebel group gave a rival account. He told Reuters the rebels battled the Kurdish YPG around al-Amarna and denied any Turkish tanks took part. Turkish security forces simply said Turkish-backed forces had extended their control to five villages beyond Jarablus. A video released by Turkey’s military showed the Turkish Red Crescent distributing food and aid to people in Jarablus, with the help of Turkish troops. It also showed what appeared to be Turkish-backed rebels flicking v-for-victory signs in the town.
The newly formed Jarablus Military Council has said it was made up of people from the area with the aim of capturing the town and the surrounding region from Islamic State militants. However, the Turkish-backed rebels seized Jarablus first.
Meanwhile, at least 15 civilians were killed in a barrel bomb attack on a rebel-held district of Aleppo yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said. The Britain-based group said regime aircraft had dropped two explosive-packed barrel bombs several minutes apart on the Maadi district of eastern Aleppo. The strikes hit “near a tent where people were receiving condolences for those killed this week in the neighboring district of Bab al-Nayrab,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“There was a first barrel bomb and when people gathered and the ambulances arrived, a second barrel struck and there were more deaths,” an AFP reporter in the rebel-held part of the city said. “One ambulance was completely destroyed,” he added, citing the local civil defense unit. The Observatory said dozens more were injured in the two strikes and the death toll was expected to rise.
Yesterday’s deadly strikes come after 15 people, among them 11 children, were killed in a barrel bomb attack on Bab al-Nayrab on Thursday. The local Shabha Press news agency said 23 people were killed in yesterday’s attack, and published photos showing several of the dead, including a man who appeared to have been riding a motorbike at the time of the strike. Most of his blood-soaked body lay on one side of the overturned bike, but his severed leg lay on the other side. Syria’s regime has been accused of regularly using barrel bombs – crude, explosive devices – on rebel-held areas that are home to civilians. – Agencies