As Turkish and allied militant forces from the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) advance further upon Kurdish positions in northern Syria, Turkey has called upon the United States to vacate its military bases in the Syrian district of Manbij. Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Turkish foreign minister Melet Cavusoglu said that Ankara is calling upon the US, its official ally in NATO, to cease any and all support to Syrian Kurdish forces and militias.
Cavusoglu’s statement came mere hours after an official telephone talk between Turkey’s Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin and US National Security Adviser Herbert Raymond McMaster about the ongoing Turkish invasion of Syrian soil.
Though unconfirmed by officials in Washington, the US-funded Voice of America reports that McMaster "pledged to stop giving arms to YPG Kurdish forces in Syria" during the phone call. However, it is unclear what this would mean on the ground as the Pentagon has in the past attempted to make a linguistic distinction between the YPG per se (Kurdish "People's Protection Units") and the Syrian Democratic Forces (the former comprises the bulk of the latter), as well as a distinction between YPG operating in Afrin Canton and the rest of Kurdish forces in Rojava.
Voice of America reports the following of the high level phone call between McMaster and Erdogan's presidential spokesman:
Turkey said Saturday that Washington has pledged to stop giving arms to YPG Kurdish forces in Syria, as Turkey's offensive against the U.S.-backed group there enters its eight day. Turkey's presidency said in a statement that U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster spoke Friday with Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. McMaster confirmed in the phone conversation that the U.S. would not give weapons to the YPG militia, the statement said. There has been no U.S. confirmation.
While both Turkey and the United States are in violation of international law by entering Syria with military forces without permission by Damascus or a UN mandate, both countries have vastly different interests in the country.
The United States has for years supplied weapons and training to Kurdish militias in northern Syria, causing concerns that they seek an eventual secession of Kurdish-occupied lands from Syria. Turkey on the other hand, having supported so-called "moderate" rebel groups such as the FSA since at least 2015, actively seeks to prevent the existence of a YPG-controlled area to its southern border, as it sees the Syrian Kurdish units as an affiliate of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is active within Turkey.
Meanwhile, with the lifting of bad weather and the return of Turkish warplanes and gunships to the skies over northern Syria, pro-Ankara forces have breached the defenses of Kurdish forces in a key area of the Afrin region on Saturday. As reported by Al-Masdar News earlier this morning, so far Saturday has witnessed the Turkish Army and allied Free Syrian Army militias under its command advance inside Afrin from positions near the northwestern border of Turkey and Syria.
Sources report that Free Syrian Army-linked rebel groups and Faylaq al-Sham Islamists managed to seize the village of Ali Beski and the hilltop of Point 740 in the Rajo area of Afrin. The militant advance was backed up by fire support from Turkish attack helicopters which targeted Kurdish positions and movements. The engagement for the two locations in Rajo resulted in a dozen Kurdish casualties of which 10 fighters were killed and two were captured by pro-Turkish rebels.