The Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) have refused to withdraw from west of the Euphrates. Photo: AP file
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—Kurdish forces have refused to withdraw from areas west of the Euphrates River, a spokesperson said Wednesday, saying that Turkey cannot impose its agenda on the Kurds in northern Syria.
“The Turkish intervention in Jarablus is a hostile intervention. Its main goal, more than ISIS, is the Kurds,” said Redur Xelil, spokesperson for the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG).
“Our forces are part of the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] and we insist on our mission and goal. We won’t listen to the demands of Turkey or powers outside of Turkey. Turkey cannot impose its own agenda, its own interests on us. Our forces are there. We will not withdraw from west of the Euphrates. No one has the right to ask the YPG to leave the area.”
Earlier on Wednesday, US Vice President Joe Biden called on the Kurdish forces to leave areas they liberated west of the Euphrates River, honouring a commitment Washington made to Ankara before the operation to liberate the northern Syrian city of Manbij.
Kurdish forces “must move back across the Euphrates River,” Biden said in a joint press conference held in Ankara with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. “They cannot, will not, under any circumstance get American support if they do not keep that commitment.”
The United States had promised Ankara that Kurdish forces participating in the operation to retake Manbij from Islamic State would not remain in the liberated areas. Ankara, which is vehemently opposed to Kurds expanding their territory in northern Syria, along Turkey’s southern border, gave tacit consent to the Manbij operation following the American’s promise.
Early Wednesday morning, Turkey launched an offensive in Syria to liberate Jarablus, which lies on Turkey’s border with Syria, on the west bank of the Euphrates. Ankara’s goal was to cleanse the border of “all terrorist elements, including Daesh [ISIS] and YPG,” tweeted presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin on Wednesday.
The operation, dubbed Euphrates Shield, was led by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with support from Turkey both on the ground with a dozen tanks, and in the air. The international anti-ISIS coalition also assisted with airstrikes.
ISIS militants reportedly put up little resistance and victory was declared in Jarablus Wednesday evening, just 14 hours after the offensive was started.
“Jarablus is completely liberated,” a commander of the Sultan Mourad rebel group, Ahmad Othman, told AFP.
Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported that one Syrian rebel was killed and another 10 were injured; there were no casualties among the Turkish forces. An estimated 46 ISIS militants were killed, reported Dogan news agency.
The Syrian Coalition of opposition groups welcomed Turkey’s involvement in the offensive but stressed that Turkey’s presence in Syria was temporary. “The Coalition emphasizes that the military presence of the international anti-ISIS coalition in and around Jarablos is temporary and limited to the provision of logistical support. The ground attack on the town will be carried out by the FSA fighters,” reads a press release issued by the coalition on Wednesday.
The SDF, however, accused the Turkish army of “targeting civilians” in a village north of Manbij. The SDF Press Center reported on Twitter that two civilians were killed and four members of a family were injured.
Approximately 1,300 civilians from the Jarablus and al-Bab areas were displaced to Afrin canton.