ANKARA/BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Turkey has killed at least 260 Syrian Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants in its four-day-old offensive into the Kurdish-dominated Afrin region of northwest Syria, the Turkish military said yesterday.
U.S. President Donald Trump plans to raise concerns with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call expected on Wednesday about Ankara’s offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG forces in Afrin, a senior U.S. official said.
French President Emmanuel Macron also voiced disquiet, a few hours after Turkey’s foreign minister said it wanted to avoid any clash with U.S., Russian or Syrian government forces during its offensive but would do whatever necessary for its security.
The air and ground operation has opened a new front in Syria’s multi-sided civil war and could threaten U.S. plans to stabilise and rebuild a large area of northeast Syria – beyond President Bashar al-Assad’s control – where Washington helped a force dominated by the YPG to drive out Islamic State militants.
The United States and Russia both have military forces in Syria backing opposing sides and have called for restraint on the part of Ankara’s “Operation Olive Branch” to crush the YPG in the Afrin region near Turkey’s southern border.
A senior Trump administration official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said Ankara had sent “conflicting signals” about the scope of the offensive.
“We would urge them to limit the incursion as much as possible,” the official said, who said the phone call would happen soon. Another official – as well as Turkey’s foreign minister – said Erdogan and Trump planned to speak on Wednesday.
A statement by Macron’s office said: “Taking into account Turkey’s security imperatives, the president expressed to his Turkish counterpart his concerns following the military intervention launched on Saturday in Afrin.”
Erdogan told Macron on Tuesday Turkey was taking all measures to prevent civilian casualties in the Afrin operation, sources at the presidential palace said. The two leaders agreed to stay in close contact on the issue.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin had also discussed Turkey’s military operation Erdogan by phone and that Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty had to be respected.
A Kremlin statement said both men stressed the importance of continuing their two countries’ joint work to try to find a peaceful resolution to Syria’s crisis. Russia has been Assad’s most powerful ally against rebels and militants in Syria.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated Ankara’s demand that Washington stop supporting the YPG.
Ankara has said the operation will be swift, but Erdogan’s spokesman signalled an open-ended cross-border campaign, saying it would end only when some 3.5 million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey could safely return home.
The United States hopes to use the YPG’s control in northern Syria to give it the diplomatic muscle it needs to revive U.N.-led talks in Geneva on a deal that would end Syria’s civil war.