Syria Kurd militia warns Turkey offensive will harm IS battle

Qamishli (Syria) (AFP) –


A US-backed Kurdish militia in Syria warned Wednesday that an offensive against it by Turkey would hinder the battle against Islamic State jihadists.

The warning came just hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara would launch an operation "in the next few days" against territory held by Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) partners with Washington in the fight against IS, but Turkey says the group is a "terrorist offshoot" of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The YPG forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US-led coalition's key ground partner in the fight against IS currently battling to oust jihadists from their last holdout in eastern Syria.

"The (Turkish) threats coincide with the advance of our forces against the terrorists, this time with the entrance into the town of Hajin," YPG spokesman Nuri Mahmud said.

The SDF launched an offensive on September 10 to expel IS from the Hajin pocket, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River close to the Iraqi border.

"Undoubtably, any attack on the north of Syria will have a direct impact on the battle of Hajin. The forces who are fighting (there) will return to defend their areas and their families," Mahmud said.

In the chaos of Syria's brutal seven-year war, the long-oppressed Kurdish minority has carved out a semi-autonomous region in the north of the country.

Ankara fears an entrenched Kurdish presence across the border will stoke separatist ambitions at home.

In January, Turkish forces backed Syrian rebels to clear the YPG from its northwestern enclave of Afrin, west of the Euphrates River.

Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkish forces would soon begin moving to clear Kurdish fighters from the east of the river.

The semi-autonomous administration's executive council appealed to the United Nations, the anti-IS coalition and the broader international community "to take a stand against Erdogan's aggressive plans".

"We also call on the Syrian government to take an official position against these threats," the council said in a statement Wednesday.

The YPG spokesman blamed "Turkish threats" for already interrupting the fight against militants.

The SDF temporarily halted anti-IS operations in late October after Turkey shelled Kurdish positions in northern Syria.

"In case of attack, we will use the right of legitimate defence of our regions, and we will resist right to the end," Mahmud said.

There are American forces with the SDF east of the Euphrates as well as in the flashpoint city of Manbij, which is west of the river.

Erdogan's announcement came a day after the Pentagon announced the US had set up observation posts on the northeast Syria border region, intended to prevent altercations between the Turkish army and the YPG.

Mahmud said the observation posts were there "to demonstrate that Turkish security is not threatened", despite criticism from Ankara against the move.