In a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Donald Trump has raised concerns that Ankara’s ongoing military operation in neighboring Syria, if not wound down, may result in a direct clash between the two NATO allies.
“President Trump relayed concerns that escalating violence in Afrin, Syria, risks undercutting our shared goals in Syria,” according to the White House readout of the conversation. “He urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.”
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Trump has further urged Turkey to deescalate and “limit its military actions” in order to “avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees.”
The US has around 2,000 troops and military “advisors” in Syria. Washington and Ankara may indeed come face-to-face there, although the possibility is “small,” Turkey’s deputy prime minister said earlier, after Erdogan announced he was adamant he would “thwart games” along Turkey’s borders.
Despite calls to “deescalate” military involvement in Syria, the Turkish leader announced an extension of the operation from the Afrin region to the separate Kurdish-held enclave of Manbij. “With the Olive Branch operation, we have once again thwarted the game of those sneaky forces whose interests in the region are different,” Erdogan said. “Starting in Manbij, we will continue to thwart their game.”
The rift between the NATO allies has been growing despite the stated “shared goal of achieving the lasting defeat” of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists. Ankara’s ire has been driven by the fact the US continues to support the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey says are linked to the Kurdish PKK and are considered a terrorist organization.
The so-called ‘Olive Branch’ operation was launched last week in order to prevent Kurdish “terrorists” from potentially gaining autonomy amid reports the US-led coalition was planning to create a new Kurdish-dominated Border Security Force (BSF) in Syria.
Russia has meanwhile expressed concern over the ongoing standoff, urging all parties to show restraint and respect the territorial integrity of Syria, while Damascus has condemned “Turkish aggression on Afrin.”
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