US intelligence says Turkey not preparing new attack on Syrian Kurds, but SDF has concerns

The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said in a report that it sees no indications that Turkey is preparing a new offensive against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria. Nevertheless, Kurds fear Turkey could still attack Kurdish positions.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said in a report that it sees no indications that Turkey is preparing a new offensive against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria. Nevertheless, Kurds fear Turkey could still attack Kurdish positions.

“The DIA said it has not seen any indications that Turkey is preparing to renew or expand military operations in northeastern Syria against the YPG at this time,” a Pentagon Inspector General (IG) report covering the second quarter of 2020 (April 1, 2020 – June 30, 2020), recently said.

After Turkey intervened in northeastern Syria in October 2019, Russia and the US reached separate ceasefire deals with Ankara, which allowed Turkish troops to control the area just over its southern border between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain (Serikaniye). 

Furthermore, the DIA said that as of late February, approximately 70,000 people remained displaced
by hostilities since the Turkish invasion in October 2019. Moreover, according to the UN, 130,000 have returned to their areas of origin, the Pentagon Watchdog report said.

Despite the ceasefire agreements, Turkish-backed groups and the Turkish army continue to occasionally target areas held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). 

On June 23, a Turkish drone strike killed three female civilians at a residence in the village of Helincê, near Kobani. The village is the hometown of the SDF Commander-in-Chief and other top officials from the group.

Furthermore, a civilian was injured on Thursday in the Allaya neighborhood of the city of Qamishlo, also on the Turkish border, due to an alleged Turkish drone strike, the internal security forces said in a statement.

Although the US says it thinks there won’t be another Turkish offensive, local officials and civilians fear the contrary, especially in Kobani, which they say could still be a target for future Turkish attacks since the city has a symbolic status for its significant victory over the Islamic State with US support. 

A top SDC official warned during an online event on May 29 that even the Russians warn that Turkey could still attack Kobani. There are also fears that Moscow could also approve another Turkish attack in order to push out US troops that are positioned near oil fields in Deir al-Zor and Hasakah. 

After US troops pulled out from areas near Manbij, Kobani, and Raqqa in late 2019, Russian troops moved into the areas as well as in others near the border.

When Turkey attacked Afrin in January 2018, Russia appeared to have approved the operations, withdrawing its forces from the vicinity. 

The SDF says it is also especially worried about Turkish territorial ambitions in the oil-rich area near the town of Qahtaniya (Tirbespi in Kurdish), which would cut off northeast Syria from the strategic though unofficial Semalka border crossing, which the US-led Coalition uses to send military and logistical support to its partner forces in Syria.

Furthermore, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has used the crossing to send aid to northeast Syria, and Syrian Kurds have in recent years regularly crossed the border from Syria into the Kurdistan Region or vice versa. Humanitarian organizations also use the border crossing to send foreign staff and aid to Syria’s northeast.

The Syrian border town of Qahtaniya itself is populated by Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians. A number of Arabs were settled there in the 1970s during the Syrian government’s so-called Arab Belt policy to Arabize, or ethnically cleanse the region of its Kurdish population, there as well as in multiple other Kurdish-majority areas.

Therefore, Turkey might see the areas as an easier target due to a large number of Arab villages now in the area. Furthermore, it would give Turkey access to oil resources within Syria.

SDF Commander-in-Chief Mazlum Abdi warned in an interview with Al Monitor in February that there could likely be such an attack on Qahtaniya (Tirbespi).

Recently, renown Kurdish analyst Hiwa Osman, who met with the SDF Chief Abdi last month, said in a tweet that Turkey presented a plan to NATO to control the area from Tirbespi (Qahtaniya) to Tel Kocer (Yarubiya), but did not get approval from the multi-national alliance. 

Osman said one goal of the plan was to create an alternative trade route with Iraq that bypasses Kurdistan and separates the Kurdish-majority areas into two.

“Now he (Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan) is trying with the Russians and the Iranians to bring them on board with the plan,” Osman tweeted.

Sources say Turkey originally presented this plan in April in London as part of its plan to obtain NATO support. Iran now allegedly backs the Turkish plan since it would weaken the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria.

Sinam Mohamed, the representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) in Washington, told Kurdistan 24, “The US can make pressure to stop Turkey from destabilizing the region.”

“According to the (ceasefire) agreement between the US and Turkey in October, Turkey will not go further than Ras al-Ain (Serekaniye) and Tal Abyad. So, the US can prevent them from carrying out another invasion in Rojava and northeast Syria.” 

Amy Austin Holmes, a fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington DC, told Kurdistan 24 that given US Vice President Pence’s “professed concern for religious minorities, he could certainly do more to ensure that Turkey upholds the Ceasefire Agreement.” 

That would include, she added, making sure that all those who were displaced as a result of the military operation “are able to return to their homes.”

Furthermore, she stated that unless there is a return to the peace talks between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which earlier broke down in July 2015 and resulted in a more militaristic policy from the Turkish government, it is unlikely that there will be peace between the Kurds in northeastern Syria and Turkey.

Ankara has accused the YPG and the SDF of being an offshoot of the PKK, although the US disagrees with its NATO ally and continues to support to the YPG. Moreover, the YPG has denied links to the PKK and has, in turn, accused Turkey of supporting the Islamic State.

“Until there is a return to peace talks between Turkey and the PKK,” Holmes concluded, “it is hard to imagine that Yazidis and Christians in either Syria or Iraq will be safe.”

Editing by John J. Catherine