News / Middle East

    Turkey Shells US-Allied Kurds in Northern Syria

    FILE - A general view shows the town of Azaz, near the Syrian-Turkish border, March 11, 2014.
    FILE - A general view shows the town of Azaz, near the Syrian-Turkish border, March 11, 2014.

    The multi-sided war raging in Syria became even more tangled when Turkish troops shelled positions near the border controlled by U.S.-allied fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

    Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu confirmed the overnight Saturday artillery barrage and demanded the YPG withdraw from the Syrian border town of Azaz and vacate a nearby air base the Kurds seized last week from Syrian rebel forces. The Turkish shelling continued Sunday.

    The Kurdish rebels backed by the West and Gulf countries have been battling for more than a week against a ferocious Russian-backed offensive by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

    Operations by YPG forces and their allies in northern Syria the past few days have complicated the defenses of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamist militias. Syrian rebels accuse the YPG of coordinating with the Assad government and acting as a spoiler tactically.

    FILE - Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters take up positions inside a damaged building in al-Vilat al-Homor neighborhood in Hasaka city, Syria.
    FILE - Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters take up positions inside a damaged building in al-Vilat al-Homor neighborhood in Hasaka city, Syria.

    Rebel commanders say YPG fighters are now in parts of Azaz just six kilometers from the border with Turkey. The YPG is in effect the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which in turn is an offshoot of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Turkey considers both the PYD and PKK as terrorist groups.

    Despite continued Turkish shelling Sunday the YPG claimed to have captured the village of Ayn Daqnah, east of Menagh and south of Azaz.

    Effective US partner

    Rebel commanders accuse the YPG, which has been the most effective partner with the U.S. on the ground in the struggle against Islamic State in Syria, of assisting a government assault on the nearby and strategically important town of Tell Rifaat, where on Saturday women started to arm themselves to form a loosely coordinated battalion.

    Mohammed Adeeb, a senior figure in the 10,000-strong Shamiya Front, an alliance featuring moderate and Islamist armed factions as well as fighters who describe themselves as Islamic nationalists, said his fighters had “overheard YPG militiamen on the radio calling in Russian airstrikes.”

    According to Turkish military officials, the shelling of YPG positions came in retaliation for Kurdish gunfire and was focused just southwest of Azaz.

    Rami Abdel Rahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said Turkish shelling struck wider afield, targeting YPG positions near the Menagh, an air base the Kurds took from Syrian rebels.

    FILE - A Free Syrian Army fighter cleans an anti-aircraft artillery gun near the Menagh military airport in Aleppo's countryside, Feb. 17, 2013.
    FILE - A Free Syrian Army fighter cleans an anti-aircraft artillery gun near the Menagh military airport in Aleppo's countryside, Feb. 17, 2013.

    Turkish officials also confirmed that on Saturday Turkish soldiers shelled Syrian regime forces near the Çalıboğazı border post in the province of Hatay. Again they say this was in retaliation for gunfire directed at them.

    Turkey, Saudi Arabia discuss ground force

    The shelling came as both Turkish and Saudi officials upped their talk of dispatching a ground force into northern Syria ostensibly as part of the international coalition’s struggle against Islamic State militants.

    But in an interview Saturday with German newspaper Handelsblatt  Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir focused his comments on Russia's military intervention, saying it would not help Assad remain in power, suggesting both Ankara and Riyadh may be contemplating military action against Assad, widening a war dangerously and raising the prospect of a Turkish clash with the Russians.

    “There will be no Bashar al-Assad in the future,” he told a German newspaper.

    FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, greets Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir before a meeting in Ankara, Oct. 15, 2015.
    FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, greets Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir before a meeting in Ankara, Oct. 15, 2015.

    Turkey’s Foreign Minister Melvin Çavuşoğlu seemingly took back on Sunday earlier remarks that suggested a strategy had already been agreed upon by Turkey and Saudi Arabia for a ground campaign, saying no solid decision for such an operation had yet been reached. But he did confirm Saudi Arabia would be sending an undisclosed number of warplanes to the NATO air base at Incirlik in Adana near the Syrian border in southern Turkey.

    “As of today, there is no decision regarding a ground operation,” he said.

    Turkish media are reporting that eight to10 Saudi jets will be deployed at Incirlik within the coming weeks. Four F-16 fighters are expected to arrive in a first wave.

    Seeking wider intervention

    Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu appeared to stress Turkey’s wish for a wider intervention than just one focused on Islamic State. “We will take every necessary step to ensure an environment that guarantees Turkey’s security, an environment without Daesh [IS], the Syrian regime or the PYD,” he told a news conference in Erzincan, northeast Turkey.

    Davutoglu expressed frustration with the ongoing UN-brokered peace negotiations in Munich, casting doubt on the hopes for a cessation of hostilities that is meant to begin in days.

    “Meetings between Russia and the U.S. continue,” Davutoglu said.” And behold, after every meeting, the siege on Aleppo gets tighter and the number of refugees coming from Aleppo increases.”

    He added: “Somebody needs to draw a line against Russia and raise their voice.”

    YPG military encroachments in northern Syria

    According to Turkish officials Davutoglu talked this weekend with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden concerning Turkish anger about YPG military encroachments in northern Syria, adding that Biden had said he would pass the Turkish Prime Minister’s remarks on to the “relevant parties.”

    FILE - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, right, following a joint news conference after their meeting in Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, Jan. 23, 2016.
    FILE - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, right, following a joint news conference after their meeting in Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, Jan. 23, 2016.

    U.S. officials say there is little to be done to counter militarily the Russian-backed Assad offensive and they argue the vicious five-year-long Syrian civil war that has left upwards of 250,000 dead won’t be resolved by the clash of arms but through a negotiated political settlement.

    In an interview with the AFP news agency Friday, President Assad said he didn’t rule out that Turkey and Saudi Arabia would intervene militarily in Syria. But said his armed forces “will certainly confront it.”

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    by: Bob from: USA
    February 14, 2016 3:03 PM
    Wonder how long it will take Hanoi John to give up the Kurds?

    by: Curtis from: USA
    February 14, 2016 12:28 PM
    Assad needs to go now! Talking about diplomatic means is double speak for collaboration. It's no good when crooks of a feather flock together.

    by: Joe
    February 14, 2016 11:55 AM
    I think NATO should figure out which side they are on and try to organize their own allies before they start blaming everyone else fir the mess in Syria. Jeesh....

    by: zekewarg
    February 14, 2016 10:39 AM
    The Kurdish rebels backed by the West and Gulf countries have been battling for more than a week against a ferocious Russian-backed offensive by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces??? You need some editing here, the Kurds and Assads forces are not fighting each other...

    by: Observer
    February 14, 2016 10:23 AM
    How many sides exactly in this war?

    by: Bird from: US
    February 14, 2016 9:39 AM
    Also, VOA, are you taking us for fools: "The Kurdish rebels backed by the West and Gulf countries have been battling for more than a week against a ferocious Russian-backed offensive by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces."

    Since when Kurdish "rebels" were backed by Gulf countries and since when have they ever battled Russia? Are you delusional? You realize that Kurdish "rebels" are actually supported by US "partners" the Russians?

    by: Bird from: US
    February 14, 2016 9:37 AM
    Finally, about time someone shell those socialist terrorists Kurds. There are plenty of other revolution-aligned Kurds with no ambitions to steal the revolution for their own greed agendas.

    Kudos to Turkey. Next step, annihilate Assad and his allies ISIS.
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    February 14, 2016 4:51 PM
    How often do you receive a check from AKP of Turkey?

    Turkey = ISIS

    by: Canuck
    February 14, 2016 9:35 AM
    Turkey should not be a member of NATO, they are not our friend.
    In Response

    by: RS from: Canada
    February 14, 2016 3:30 PM
    I couldn't agree more. Turkey and Saudi Arabia and others are enemies of the West. I really do hope that Russia and the US could teach them a lesson...some day. Then, only then, will we have a peaceful world without extremist politician who would like to have islam as a wold religion. How many churches, hindu temples, shrines do we see in Saudi Arabia?

    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 14, 2016 9:31 AM
    Truth be told... The Kurds will align themselves with any country that would help them establish their own independent state or country, and the Kurds have already established territory in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, with the bulk of the Kurds and homes in the territory of Turkey? .. That's what the Turks fear the most?

    PS; The US and NATO is arming and equipping the Kurds to fight the ISIL terrorists, just like the US and NATO is arming terrorists/rebels to fight the Syrian army and the ISIL terrorists, [and now], the ISIL terrorists are aligned with Turkey and the Saudi kingdom, while Turkey is bound by the NATO alliance with the US and NATO against Russia and the Syrian army? .. Confused? .. Who knows who the true believers, the believers, and the nonbelievers will sleep with next, to get whatever they want to accomplish next? .. what won't they prostitute themselves for anymore? .. like a really-bad, real-life soap opera, isn't it?

    by: drac
    February 14, 2016 9:29 AM
    Trump is right, should of stayed out of Iraq...the fact that we report" Turkey shells border controlled by us allies" is proof this war is not about the Iraqi ppl but us interest.

    That region would be better off without America.
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