Beirut, Apr 28 (AP) US armoured vehicles are deploying in areas in northern Syria along the tense border with Turkey, a few days after a Turkish airstrike that killed 20 US-backed Kurdish fighters, a Syrian war monitor and Kurdish activists said today.
Footage posted by Syrian activists online showed a convoy of US armoured vehicles driving on a rural road in the village of Darbasiyah, a few hundred meters from the Turkish border.
Clashes in the area were reported between Turkish and Kurdish forces Wednesday a day after the Turkish airstrike which also destroyed a Kurdish command headquarters.
The Turkish airstrikes, which also wounded 18 members of the US-backed People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria were criticised by both the US and Russia.
The YPG is a close US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group but is seen by Ankara as a terrorist group because of its ties to Turkey’s Kurdish rebels.
Further clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces in Syria could potentially undermine the U.S.-led war on the Islamic State group.
A senior Kurdish official, Ilham Ahmad told The Associated Press that American forces began carrying out patrols along the border yesterday along with reconnaissance flights in the area. She said the deployment was in principle temporary, but may become more permanent.
A Kurdish activist in the area, Mustafa Bali, said the deployment is ongoing, adding that it stretches from the Iraqi border to areas past Darbasiyah in the largely Kurdish part of eastern Syria.
“The US role has now become more like a buffer force between us and the Turks on all front lines,” he said. He said US forces will also deploy as a separation force in areas where the Turkish-backed Syrian fighting forces and the Kurdish forces meet.
It is a message of reassurance for the Kurds and almost a “warning message” to the Turks, he said.
Navy Capt Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, did not dispute that US troops are operating with elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) along the Turkish border, but he would not get into specifics. The SDF is a Kurdish- dominated alliance fighting IS that includes Arab fighters.
“We have US forces that are there throughout the entirety of northern Syria that operate with our Syrian Democratic Force partners,” Davis said. “The border is among the areas where they operate.” He said the US wants the SDF to focus on liberating the IS-held town of Tabqa and the extremist group’s de facto capital, Raqqa, “and not be drawn into conflicts elsewhere.”
Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the deployment seems limited and is aimed to “prevent fighting” between the two sides.
The US has recently shifted from working quietly behind the scenes in Syria’s conflict toward overt displays of US force in an attempt to shape the fight.
Last month, about 200 Marines rolled into northern Syria backed with howitzers, significantly widening America’s footprint in a highly toxic battlefield.
The Marines’ deployment came days after another intervention, when dozens of army troops drove outside the town of Manbij, riding Stryker armoured vehicles, following an earlier conflagration of fighting between Syrian Kurdish troops and Turkish troops. The US deployment in Manbij intentionally put Americans in the middle of that rivalry, hoping to cool it down.
The SDF retook Manbij from IS control, and Turkey with its troops nearby said it won’t allow the town to be under Kurdish control, threatening to move on it. (AP) CPS
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.