US urges Turkey, Syrian Kurds to focus on ISIS

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ANKARA – The U.S. is scrambling to stop military hostilities between Turkish forces in Syria and the Kurds, a conflict that threatens to detract resources from the fight against ISIS.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan has vowed that his army’s operations will continue in Syria against both ISIS and Kurdish forces until neither poses a security threat to his nation, reports the Boston Globe.

As part of Operation Euphrates’ Shield, Turkey’s military, supported by U.S. air power, is attempting to push ISIS militants back from the Syrian-Turkish border. However, Operation Euphrates’ Shield also seeks to stop Kurdish forces from expanding their territorial gains. Consequently, the U.S. has found itself caught in the literal crossfire between its NATO ally and Kurdish fighters who form a large part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which also operates with U.S. support.

This summer has proven tumultuous for U.S.-Turkey relationship, after Erdogan accused the U.S. of involvement in the attempted coup against his government last month.  Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Ankara last week in an effort to smooth relations with the Erdogan regime. While there, he warned Kurdish ground forces to retreat to the eastern bank of the Euphrates’ River. Since then, more violence has erupted, with Turkey firing an airstrike in Kurdish-held territory near the Turkish border, that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights alleges killed dozens of civilians.  Turkey claims those killed were Kurdish fighters responsible for the death of Turkish soldiers.

Turkey has responded to U.S. demands for a ceasefire by giving Kurdish forces an ultimatum: withdraw from all territory east of the Euphrates River or face more frequent and severe attacks.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said fighting between Kurdish fighters and the Turks threatens to undermine the mission against ISIS by leading to uncoordinated operations and a military mission with conflicting purposes. U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will travel next week to Europe where he says he will address the situation with his Turkish counterpart, Fikri Isik. Carter hopes to convince Turkey to keep the focus on destroying ISIS, not fighting the Kurds.

Compounding the problem is the presence of U.S. military advisors, deployed to the region earlier this year to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces in recapturing territory from ISIS, U.S. troops that are now advising rebels, including a large number of Kurdish forces who Turkey is determined to defeat.