MESOP NEWS Syria Daily: Turkey & US Differ Over Trump-Erdoğan Phone Call About Afrin Offensive

By Scott Lucas – January 25, 2018 – Turkey and the US have differed sharply in their accounts of a phone call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Donald Trump, about the Turkish-rebel offensive on the Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwest Syria.

A White House statement said, “[Trump] urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties. He urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.”According to the readout, Trump held the US line, set out since the start of the offensive, that Turkey should focus on the Islamic State.

Turkish officials immediately said
the statement “does not accurately reflect the content of President Erdoğan’s phone call with President Trump”.

They declared that Trump “did not share any ‘concerns [about] escalating violence’ with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin”, summarizing that the discussion was “limited to an exchange of views”.

However, the Turkish sources did say that Trump suggested the restriction of the Turkish-rebel operation, which began last Friday, to a “certain time limit” and avoidance of any fighting in Manbij in eastern Aleppo Province, held by the US-supported, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.After the SDF pushed the Islamic State out of Manbij in 2016, the US and Russia put forces near Manbij to prevent a takeover by a Turkish-rebel force which had defeated ISIS in northern Aleppo Province.

The Turkish officials indicated that Erdoğan maintained the demand for a withdrawal of the Kurdish militia YPG from Manbij as well as Afrin. The President said that the YPG and the Syrian Kurdistan Democratic Union Party (PYD) must withdraw to eastern Syria, east of the Euphrates River.

The officials declared that Trump met Ankara’s demand that the US will no longer supply the YPG with weapons.The US position has been further complicated by reports of a split between the White House and the Pentagon over the response to the Turkish-rebel offensive. While the White House has backed away from support of the YPG, the Pentagon has maintained a US plan for a border security force led by the militia — a plan which, in part, spurred the Turkish-rebel move on Afrin as Erdoğan promised to “drown” the “terror army”.

Ankara considers the PYD and YPG to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK, which has battled Ankara’s security forces for more than 30 years.A “senior US official” gave a muddled statement to Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper. He said that the US has told Ankara that “we do intend to fulfill that commitment” to end weapons supplies to the YPG, “but I can’t give you a specific time frame”.

The official then repeated that the US will continue to cooperate with the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Erdoğan: No Difference Between ISIS and YPG

On the battlefield, there was little confirmed movement on Wednesday amid inclement weather and fog. The Turkish-rebel offensive claimed addvances in its first days, but the YPG said earlier this week that they had retaken lost territory, including the important high point of Mount Bursaya. The governor of Kilis Province in southeast Turkey said two civilians were killed and six injured when rockets fired from Syria hit two locations in the city center, including the Çalık Mosque during prayers.

Kurdish outlets said 35 civilians have been killed and 106 wounded by the Turkish-rebel offensive. Erdoğan maintained his political campaign against both the Kurdish YPG and the US, declaring that there is no difference between the Islamic State and Kurdish militias. He added:Daesh terrorists that were besieged and could have been easily destroyed in Raqqa were taken out and spread to other regions. We know some of those are being kept in reserve for possible action against Turkey.

The Afrin operation also aims to eradicate some of this reserve.He questioned “the humanity of those who accuse Turkey of being an invader and support an organization that has the blood of tens of thousands of innocent children, women, elderly people and innocents on its hands”.