Following recent remarks by Turkish officials saying an offensive on Democratic Union Party (PYD)-held Afrin may come soon, U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillion said Tuesday that coalition forces will protect partners fighting Daesh, referring to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is predominantly led by the PKK terror organization's Syrian affiliate PYD's armed People's Protection Units (YPG). Dillon was speaking at a briefing via videoconference where he was asked whether the U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve bears responsibility to extend support to the YPG in Afrin in northwest Syria.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said several times that Turkey will not allow a "terrorist corridor" along its southern border in northern Syria and that a possible operation into Afrin is near. "Now it's time for Afrin," Erdoğan said previously. "As I have said before, we can hit at any moment," he said in late October.
"[W]e will support our partners who are fighting against ISIS. I think we've shown once in the past that with the element who were working out of al-Tanf who did not want to fight ISIS and had other endeavors," Dillon said, using another acronym for Daesh. However, he made an exception: "If you're not fighting ISIS and you're not working towards the same mission that we are, then you don't get that support."
Referring to the Syrian opposition group al-Shuhuk, which did not want to fight Daesh, Dillion said: "We cut our ties with them because that's what they wanted to pursue and then they were not going to be supported by the coalition any further." He added that he was not aware of any Turkish deployment near Afrin for a possible operation on PYD-held Afrin.
Turkey's military began setting up observation posts in Idlib this month under a deal with Russia and Iran to reduce clashes between opposition groups and the regime by establishing de-escalation zones. But the deployment was also seen as partly aimed at containing the YPG militia in the bordering Afrin region.
Washington's support for the PYD and YPG has angered Ankara, which says one terrorist group cannot be eliminated by another, criticizing the U.S. administration's military support of the group, arguing that the arms given to the YPG ultimately ends up in the hands of PKK terrorists and are used against Turkey. As an alternative, Ankara says the fight against Daesh should be carried out with local forces backed by countries in the region and the demographic sensitivities of the region should be kept in mind. Turkey, the EU and the U.S. categorize the PKK as a terrorist organization, while only Turkey considers the PYD and its YPG to be a terrorist group. Washington's rejection of ties between the PKK and YPG was recently obfuscated by the PYD, as the group said imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan is the ideological leader of the YPG and without him, the group would not be what it is today after declaring victory against Daesh in Raqqa via a video.
The YPG's ultimate aim is to establish autonomous cantons from northwestern Afrin to Kobani and Jazeera in the northeast. Moderate opposition groups oppose this, arguing that it would threaten Syria's territorial integrity. After a series of attack by Daesh from Syria, Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield on Aug. 24, 2016, following the failed July 15 coup attempt, clearing several Syrian towns along the border with Turkey from Daesh terrorists, including Jarablus, al-Rai, Dabiq and al-Bab. The operation was completed last March.