89.1 WEMU

Kurds Asking For Help From Syrian Forces To Repel Turkish Attacks In Syrian War

Feb 21, 2018
Originally published on February 21, 2018 9:01 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

While the bombing of eastern Ghouta intensifies, there's a new and perilous dynamic taking shape in another corner of Syria. This is in the north near the border with Turkey, and the new dynamic is a possible confrontation between Turkish troops and militias loyal to the Syrian government. This comes as Turkey has invaded that area of Syria to target Kurds there, and the Kurds are requesting Syria's help. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us now from Istanbul, where he's tracking all of this. Hey, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Remind everybody listening why Turkey is in Syria now. How did we get to this possible confrontation?

KENYON: Well, Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies are now entering the second month of this offensive in the Afrin region in the northwest. They're attacking Kurdish YPG fighters that Ankara sees as terrorists, and the fighting has gotten to the point that the YPG was forced to call for help from Damascus, and who showed up yesterday were pro-regime militias possibly trained by Iran. And so last night, a barrage of Turkish artillery fire pushed those forces back a little bit. Turkey's president says we're keeping on going. Within days, the city of Afrin is going to be surrounded, besieged. So certainly the prospect of more clashes are pretty high. At the moment, it's a risk of fighting between pro and anti-regime militias mainly. Not exactly the Syrian and Turkish militaries, but the prospect is there, and it's a new and dangerous wrinkle.

KELLY: Yeah, in a complicated conflict that seems to keep growing more complicated. I mean, the significance for people trying to keep up with all the players here is this - again, we stress but possibly marks Turkey and the Syrian regime fighting each other directly for the first time. Is that right?

KENYON: That is a big worry. There have not been fresh reports of fighting between the Turkish-backed forces and the pro-regime militiamen since the events we just we're talking about. But meanwhile, Turkey's talking tough again. A presidential spokesman says, we don't owe anybody an explanation for addressing our national security concerns. We've got no plans to talk with Damascus about this, as was suggested by Russia. The spokesman says, if necessary, Turkish intelligence can get in touch with Syrian intelligence just to make sure there's no accidents on the ground. But real political talks, the kind that could avoid a deliberate escalation - none of that seems to be going on at the moment.

KELLY: Peter, what is the U.S. role in all of this? The U.S. has troops in this area as well who have been there supporting Kurdish fighters.

KENYON: Yes, that's right. There's a couple thousand American troops. They are to the east in a place called Manbij. They have been working with the Kurdish fighters and others against ISIS, Islamic State forces. You remember those. As that threat has receded, some of these other complications have gotten worse and worse. And there's another potential pitfall. What if Turkish fighters run into American troops? That's something both sides want to avoid.

KELLY: You know, hearing you mention ISIS, which, yes, we do remember, it speaks to how complicated this battlefield has grown and how many countries have a stake there. How many different countries do have a presence in just this one small pocket of Syria?

KENYON: I don't think I can give you a number, but here's a quick example. American ally Turkey goes in, attacks American ally's Kurdish fighters in Afrin, they call on the enemy, the Syrian regime, for help and who shows up but Iranian-backed militias. And they may yet be coming to their aid and being involved in clashes. The Russians are trying to play the role of mediator and de-escalate the situation. But instead, it just seems to be getting worse.

KELLY: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. He's reporting on the civil war in Syria, which has now been underway for nearly seven years. Peter, thanks very much.

KENYON: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.