Syrian Kurdish militia commanders are flouting the ultimatum US Vice President Joe Biden handed them Wednesday, Aug. 24 to retreat to east of the Euphrates or else forfeit US support. Instead, debkafile’s military sources report, they decided to stand their ground and fight it out with the Turkish army.
The first clash occurred Thursday overnight, when Kurdish forces from Manbij attacked the positions taken by Turkish tanks in Jarablus, hours after Islamic State forces were put to flight from this border town.
The battles continued into Friday morning, Aug. 26.
The US ultimatum to the Kurds was the outcome of understandings US Vice President Joe Biden reached with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Wednesday, hours after the Turkish army crossed into northern Syria.
“Syrian Kurdish forces will lose US support if they don’t retreat to east bank of Euphrates,” the US vice president stated at a news conference.
Yet Thursday night, Turkish officials made an effort to counteract the impression that their military intervention in Syria was coordinated with the United States. They announce that Russian chief of staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov would be arriving in Ankara Friday for talks with his Turkish counterpart, Gen. Hulusi Akar.
The US commander of American troops in Iraq and Syria, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, had meanwhile instructed all US Special Operations personnel to withdraw from Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia units, and return to the N. Syrian Rmeilan airfield near Hassaka. This is reported from debkafile military and intelligence sources.
The US general also stopped artillery ammo supplies to the Kurdish militia and the transfer of field intelligence from the fighting in areas newly occupied by the Turkish army.
These measures were temporary, the US officers informed Salih Muslim, Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) leader, and would be lifted after his YPG militia was instructed to pull back from northern Syria and head east of the Euphrates.
Only last week, the Syrian Kurdish militia was riding high, covered in praise for its feat in capturing Manbij with the assistance of US Special Forces.
Their comedown after the US decided to jump aboard the Turkish invasion would be complete, if they complied with the Biden ultimatum. They would forfeit all their hard-won gains from years of combat against the Islamic State, and have to forget their dream of a Kurdish state linking their enclaves along the 900km Syrian-Turkish border.
A stream of information and misinformation is meanwhile muddying the waters as the Kurds in Syria and Iraq absorb the shock of the American turn against them.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara said Thursday that US Secretary of State John Kerry had informed the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that the US-backed Syrian Kurdish militias had begun their retreat to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River.
US sources qualified this claim, confirming only that a ‘main element’ of the Kurds has retreated, but not the entire force. The Kurds were evidently in no hurry to take any marching orders either from Turkey or the United States.
A short Kurdish statement claimed that their forces had indeed withdrawn to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, but debkafile’s military sources military sources say that a large body of Kurdish fighters is still in place west of the river. Indeed our sources found Kurdish PYG officers adamant in their determination to stay put and take on the Turkish army.
After the Turkish invasion Wednesday, Kurdish leader Salih Muslim declared, “Turkey will be defeated in Syria along with the Islamic State.”
Kurdish units also took up positions on the roads leading to the US base at Rmeilan, ready to enforce a blockade. A Kurdish food convoy due at the base Thursday did not arrive.
In Iraq, there is word of a Kurdish Peshmerga mutiny against US instructors at the bases where they are training for the offensive to recapture Mosul from the ISIS.
However, the events of this week around northern Syria have dealt a major setback to the US-led war on ISIS.
Just a few days ago, the Americans were speaking highly of Kurds as the sharpest sword in the coalition’s arsenal for vanquishing the jihadists. Since Biden’s deal with Erdogan on Wednesday, Washington can forget about the Syrian Kurdish PYG or the Iraqi Kurdish Pershmerga as spearheads of the campaigns to liberate Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq for ISIS.