Turkey bombs Kur­dish forces bat­tling mil­i­tants in Syria and Iraq.

18 people died in at­tack in Syria

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY CARLO MUNOZ

In the lat­est com­pli­ca­tion on an in­creas­ingly messy bat­tle­field, Turk­ish war­planes launched multiple airstrikes on Tues­day against U.S.-backed Kur­dish para­mil­i­tary forces that have been key to the fight against Is­lamic State in north­ern Iraq and Syria.

The Pen­tagon had yet to issue a for­mal state­ment on the strikes at dead­line, but Turk­ish of­fi­cials re­port­edly did not no­tify Amer­i­can com­man­ders of the op­er­a­tion prior to the strikes in north­ern Syria and Iraq’s Sin­jar region.

Syr­ian ac­tivists said the at­tack in Syria killed at least 18 mem­bers of the Syr­ian Kur­dish mili­tia known as the People’s Pro­tec­tion Units, while the Iraq airstrikes killed five mem­bers of the Iraqi Kur­dish mili­tia known as the pesh­merga, an­other part­ner in the anti-IS coali­tion, the Associated Press re­ported. No U.S. forces in ei­ther coun­try were harmed.

NATO al­lies Washington and Ankara have strug­gled to find a com­mon strat­egy in the fight across the bor­der in Syria, which in­cludes a civil war against Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Assad, whom Turkey has long op­posed, and a bat­tle against Is­lamic State, al Qaeda and other jihadist groups op­er­at­ing in the coun­try.

“These airstrikes were not ap­proved by the coali­tion and led to the un­for­tu­nate loss of life of our part­ner forces in the fight against ISIS that in­cludes mem­bers of the Kur­dish pesh­merga,” said State Depart­ment spokesman Mark Toner.

Ankara char­ac­ter­ized the strikes, which killed up­wards of 70 Kur­dish fight­ers, as a coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tion tar­get­ing mem­bers of the Kur­dish Demo­cratic Union party, or PYD. The group is the armed fac­tion of the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party, also known as the PKK.

Turkey cat­e­go­rizes both as ter­ror­ist groups, but Washington con­sid­ers them as an in­te­gral part of the in­ter­na­tional coali­tion to de­feat Is­lamic State.

Col. John Do­rian, the top U.S. spokesman for coali­tion forces, con­firmed that Amer­i­can com­man­ders were largely left in the dark about the Turk­ish op­er­a­tion.

The Turk­ish Gen­eral Staff said the strikes specif­i­cally tar­geted PKK po­si­tions near Sin­jar mountain range in north­ern Iraq and Kara­cok range, north of the Syr­ian city of Al-Hasakah, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial state­ment. The strikes, de­signed to stem the flow of weapons, men and ma­teriel to PKK units in both coun­tries, were ex­e­cuted “within the scope of the in­ter­na­tional law [and] with the aim of de­stroy­ing the hot­beds of ter­ror­ism which tar­get the unity, in­tegrity, and safety of our coun­try and na­tion,” the state­ment said.

Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi slammed Ankara for its ac­tions, saying the strikes were a vi­o­la­tion of Iraqi sovereignty.

“Iraq is in­sis­tent on re­spect­ing the sovereignty of other coun­tries. We call upon Turkey and all the other neigh­bor­ing coun­tries to re­spect the sovereignty of the Iraqi ter­ri­tory,” Iraqi govern­ment spokesman Saad Adisi told the Kur­dish news out­let Ru­daw.

Mr. Toner told re­porters Tues­day that Ankara’s need to crack down on the PKK and its af­fil­i­ates, which are re­spon­si­ble for a num­ber of ter­ror at­tacks inside Turkey, is not lost on U.S. of­fi­cials.

“We’re cog­nizant of that and we’re also cog­nizant of the threat that the PKK poses to Turkey. But again, the point ... is that Turkey can­not pur­sue that fight at the ex­pense of our com­mon fight against the ter­ror­ists that threaten us all. And that ob­vi­ously means ISIS,” Mr. Toner said.

PKK fight­ers, along­side mem­bers of the Kur­dish pesh­merga, were in­te­gral in stem­ming ISIS’s bloody cam­paign across Syria and north­ern Iraq in 2014.

Kur­dish paramil­i­taries in Syria have also been crit­i­cal al­lies to Amer­i­can and coali­tion mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers in the for­merly ISIS-held territories of Man­bij, al-Bab and else­where along the Turk­ish-Syr­ian bor­der. El­e­ments of the PKK-linked Kur­dish mili­tias are also in­te­grated into the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, the U.S.-sup­ported con­stel­la­tion of para­mil­i­tary groups, spear­head­ing the at­tack on ISIS’s self-styled cap­i­tal of Raqqa.

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