Turkish president vows to expand operation in Syria, risking confrontation with U.S.

World Today

President Erdogan has promised to extend ‘Operation Olive Branch’ west into Manbij, Syria. But about 2,000 U.S. troops are stationed there, and they do not plan on withdrawing. 

CGTN’s Michal Bardavid reports on the potential risks of confrontation.

Follow Michal Bardavid on Twitter @michal_bardavid

On January 20th, the Turkish military launched a cross border operation in Syria aiming to clear regions close to the Turkish border of the Syrian Kurdish group YPG, known as the People’s Protection Units.

Turkey believes the YPG is a security threat and does not want an autonomous Kurdish state formed along its border. Ankara says the YPG is a terrorist organization due to its affiliation with the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party.

The U.S., Turkey, and the EU classify the PKK as a terrorist organization. The YPG rejects these claims.

But for Ankara, the battle will go on. President Erdogan has repeatedly stated Turkey will extend the military operation and move on to Manbij region. That’s where the operation becomes more sensitive.

There are about 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in Manbij where the militant group YPG is located. The U.S. calls the group an ally and has been training and arming the YPG in the fight against ISIL.

Last weekend, U.S. Central Command chief Joseph Votel stated the U.S. was not considering withdrawing its troops from the area. Meanwhile, Erdogan has stated Turkey will move forward despite the U.S. presence.

“It is up to those in the area whether or not to evacuate the places where terrorists are present,” said Erdogan.

“As we have openly declared, without playing any games, we will continue to clamp down on terrorists regardless of by whom they are accompanied.”

If Turkish and American troops do come face to face, it would undoubtedly create a dangerous and politically risky situation for the two allies. However, some analysts emphasize that, if a confrontation were to occur, international bodies would intervene and prevent clashes.

“I believe that if such a situation occurred, NATO would interfere and make an effort to find a solution, and in finding a solution the United States would be forced to take a step back,” explained Ilter Turan, President of the International Political Science Association.

Turan believes there may be other solutions.

“Maybe the YPG can be convinced to withdraw from that area, or the United States can agree to pull its troops to a certain part of the region,” he said. “These are all possibilities.”

Since 2017, Turkey – U.S. relations have soured after the U.S. refused to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who Ankara believes is behind the failed coup of 2016. The arrests by Turkish authorities of two U.S. consulate employees over terror charges and the U.S. arming of YPG militants has further exacerbated those tensions.

A potential standoff in Manbij would certainly make it more difficult to mend ties for the two NATO allies.