The U.S.-led Coalition against Islamic State on Tuesday said it does not support Turkey’s unilateral action in Efrin and is committed to supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against ISIS.
“Turkey’s actions in Afrin are unilateral and not associated with Coalition operations in Syria,” a Coalition spokesperson told The Defense Post in a Tuesday, January 23 email. “The Coalition is not supportive of any offensive military actions in eastern Syria other than actions taken to defeat Daesh and prevent its resurgence.”
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Saturday, when Turkey’s air force carried out more than 100 airstrikes in Efrin canton. This was followed on Sunday with the start of ground operations. Turkey says the operation aims to “neutralize the terrorists belonging to PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG” as well as ISIS in northwestern Syria. There is no known ISIS presence in the area.
Turkey views the predominantly Kurdish YPG and its linked PYD political party which together control Efrin as extensions of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency mainly in Turkey’s majority-Kurdish southwest. The YPG makes up the backbone of the U.S.-led Coalition backed SDF.
Under an existing memorandum of understanding, “Turkey is providing advance notification of its operations to the Coalition to ensure awareness prior to military actions,” the Coalition spokesperson said. Turkey also informed the United States of the operation, and has an agreement with Russia.
“At a significant cost, the SDF continue to rid the world of Daesh, who used locations like Raqqa, Tabqa, and Manbij to plot, resource, recruit, direct, inspire, and launch attacks around the world,” the Coalition spokesperson said. “We are committed and resolved to supporting the SDF in the fight to ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh in Iraq and Syria.”
“Any efforts that distract us from our mission to defeat Daesh are not helpful,” the spokesperson added.
Syrians call for international support
On Monday, the Syrian Democratic Forces issued a press statement in which they said they “expect the International Coalition to assume its responsibilities towards our forces and the people of Afrin.”
“This is also a burden on the shoulders of the International Coalition, our partner in the fight against terror. Together we fought honorable fights to defeat terrorism, we jointly triumphed and we are very close to final victory,” the SDF statement said. “The Coalition must know that the goal of Turkey’s aggression is to undermine those victories.”
Speaking to The Defense Post on January 18, co-president of the Democratic Council of Syria Ilham Ahmed said the Turkish operation against Efrin should be halted because people from the region participated in “the liberation campaigns in the eastern Euphrates region from Daesh,” and that Turkey “must be prevented from fighting forces that have fought and are still fighting terrorism.”
“The Coalition has stood side-by-side with the SDF in the fight against Daesh,” the Coalition spokesperson said. “Beyond the support to combat operations along the Euphrates River, the Coalition continues to train local security forces to prevent the resurgence of Daesh in areas that have been liberated.”
“Removing the conditions that that lead to instability is very important now. We are very keen to also ensure stabilization efforts are executed effectively and efficiently.”
“The Coalition will be here to help support stabilization efforts, creating the conditions where a peace process under the auspices of the United Nations and Geneva can take place,” the spokesperson concluded.
The launch of Operation Olive Branch came a week after The Defense Post reported that the Coalition planned to form a 30,000-strong Syrian Border Security Force, half of which would be comprised of veteran SDF fighters. The U.S. later backtracked on the nature of the ‘border guard’ plan.