Spotlight: Turkey not likely to attack Kurdish militia despite threatening rhetoric

ISTANBUL, Nov. 3 (Xinhua) — As Turkey vows to crush the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia along its border soon, analysts remain skeptical that Ankara would launch an all-out offensive to eliminate the fighters as such a move would also mean confrontation with Washington.

“I don’t think it’s much likely that Turkey would start an offensive on the Kurdish militia,” Yasar Yakis, former foreign minister of Turkey, told Xinhua. He noted that the United States had signaled it would protect the militia if it was attacked.

Ankara sees the Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as a terrorist organization posing a major national security threat.

On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again expressed Ankara’s determination to eliminate the Kurdish fighters, saying “we will soon crush the terrorist organization in more extensive and effective operations.”

The president also stated that preparations for such a military operation were already completed.

The Turkish military shelled twice several YPG positions near the border during the past week, leaving some Kurdish fighters dead or injured, according to local media reports.

The United States voiced concern about Turkey’s strikes, saying “unilateral military strikes … by any party, particularly as American personnel may be present or in the vicinity, are of great concern to us.”

Washington is in touch with both Ankara and the YPG to de-escalate the situation, a U.S. State Department spokesman said on Wednesday.

“A full-scale military operation on the Kurdish militia does not look possible in the near future under the current circumstances,” Cahit Armagan Dilek, head of the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, told Xinhua.

Ankara is already part of a fragile Idlib deal and grappling with problems in foreign policy and with a shaky economy at home, said Dilek, a former staff officer in the Turkish military.

Based on a deal with Russia, Turkey has set up 12 military observation posts in Syria’s Idlib province.

Ankara is now tasked with convincing some unwilling radical rebels there to withdraw from some of the territory and leave their heavy weapons behind so that a political settlement could be achieved.

Referring to statements by U.S. officials about Washington seeing the YPG-held territory as an area under its hegemony, Dilek said, “a Turkish military operation would mean a war against the United States.”

The United States is estimated to have over 20 military bases and several thousand troops in the YPG-held territory in the eastern part of the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria.

Turkey should carry out surgical strikes against the YPG without losing any time instead of preparing for a sweeping ground operation, Dilek argued.

Despite Erdogan’s threat, Dilek feels that remarks by Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar indicated that Turkey will unwillingly go on cooperating with the United States, as it does in the YPG-held Manbij on the western part of the Euphrates.

In a speech delivered on the same day after Erdogan threatened a military intervention, Akar said that work on the YPG area on the eastern part of the Euphrates would begin after progress is achieved on the Manbij deal with the United States.

Ankara and Washington agreed in June on a roadmap for the YPG’s withdrawal from Manbij, which Ankara expected to begin in early July and be completed before December.

However, the Kurdish militia still remains in control of the town with U.S. troops, without giving any sign of exit so far.

Despite Turkey’s strong criticism, Washington has supplied a huge amount of weapons in recent years to the Kurdish militia.

The YPG, having been militarily equipped and trained by the United States, could put up a stiffer resistance against a military operation, cautioned Yakis.

The United States has used the YPG, now estimated to have 60,000 to 70,000 armed members, as a ground force against the Islamic State in Syria.

Earlier this year, the Turkish army, backed by the Free Syrian Army rebels, drove the YPG out of the Afrin region in northwestern Syria in around two months.

The Kurdish fighters in Afrin, where there were no U.S. troops, were not backed militarily by the United States during the Turkish offensive.

A confrontation with U.S. troops poses a significant risk and could lead to “incalculable consequences,” cautioned Yakis.

Both Yakis and Dilek believe that a military operation against the YPG would have been much easier and less costly a few years ago when the United States had not provided it with much assistance.

According to local media reports, the U.S. military set up radars and air defense systems in YPG-held areas in August.

In Dilek’s view, Turkey should have targeted the eastern part of the Euphrates before moving against Afrin, as the former forms the backbone of the militia.

Thanks to U.S. military support, the YPG established during the war in Syria two self-declared autonomous cantons in the eastern part of the Euphrates along the Turkish border.

Turkey is concerned that an autonomous Kurdish entity in Syria would set an example for its own Kurdish population.

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