Kurdish Militia YPG — We Will Take Territory from Turkish-Backed Rebels – YPG statement follows Ankara’s suggestion that it may deploy ground forces in northwest Syria

In an escalation of the multi-sided conflict in northern Syria, the Kurdish militia YPG has said that it will take territory from Turkish-supported rebels.Commander Sipan Hemo told a Kurdish newspaper that the YPG intends to “liberate” the area between Azaz, in the northwest near the Turkish border, and Jarablus on the border in north-central Syria.

Hemo did not give a timeline or details of plans to take the area, occupied by Turkey-backed rebel faction last autumn as they clear the Islamic State from the border.The comments were distributed on social media by Naser Haj Mansour, a senior official in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, led by the YPG.

Hemo’s remarks follows skirmishes and Turkey’s warnings of a possible ground offensive earlier this week. On Tuesday, as Turkish artillery shelled across the border — claiming that it was responding to YPG attacks — claims circulated that Turkey is planning to deploy forces at a base in northwest Syria. “Military sources” said, “We are likely to kick off the operation to sweep terrorists from Afrin [the Kurdish canton in the northwest] this weekend.”

The attacks have not yet developed but Turkey did send troops, vehicles, and equipment into the area between Azaz and Jarablus.Mehmud Berxwedan, commander of YPG forces in Afrin, responded on Friday, “Turkey will be plunged into a swamp, politically and militarily – there will be an historical resistance against Turkish occupation in Afrin and Shahba regions.”

US Envoy Meets Kurdish Officials Near Raqqa

The Turkish warnings and YPG response cause further complications for the US, which is allied with the SDF — and thus the YPG — in the offensive to drive ISIS from its central position in Syria, the city of Raqqa. On Wednesday and Thursday, American envoy Brett McGurk met local officials in closed-door sessions near the city.

Kurdish outlets reported the meetings as they occurred, whlie the US-led coalition confirmed it on Friday:

We are working intensively with myriad local entities to prepare for this transition though, as Mr. McGurk noted throughout his visit, the battle to liberate the city has just begun. He also credited the bravery and sacrifice of the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] in their ongoing operations against ISIS.

He also witnessed first-hand the humanitarian and stabilization assistance that is underway in liberated areas north of Raqqa, and held intensive discussions with local leaders and councils on post-liberation governance issues. Mr. McGurk also met with the Raqqa Civilian Council to discuss stabilization efforts in post-ISIS Raqqa.

Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdistan Democratic Party (PYD) and its YPG militia to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK. Washington lists the PKK as a “terrorist” organization, but has removed any references on US Government websites of YPG connections with the Turkish group.

McGurk with Kurdish officials: