Opinion | Turkey is playing with fire in Northern Syria

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Turkey’s view of Kurdish terrorism reached a critical point this week as Turkish warplanes bombed targets in northern Syria dangerously close to US forces defending against a resurgent Islamic State group.

Gen. Mazloum Kobane Abdi, commander of the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, told me Wednesday of the horrors of the Turkish crackdown. He said that after three days of Turkish bombardment, the SDF could lose its ability to maintain security in prisons and refugee camps for ISIS fighters and their families.

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“These strikes put the ISIS mission at risk,” said Col. Joseph Buccino, a spokesman for US Central Command, which oversees the region. “One of the strikes hit American personnel at a distance of 130 meters, so American forces are in danger. Any prolongation of these attacks increases this risk,” Buccino told me via email.

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Mazloum, as he is known, said that an hour before our conversation, a Turkish drone fired at an SDF security post in Al-Hol refugee camp, home to families of Islamic State fighters. He said he did not know if any of the camp’s residents had escaped because the Turkish drone was still hovering over the camp and it was not safe for US and SDF forces there to survey the damage.

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Mazloum said SDG forces trying to secure 28 temporary prisons in northern Syria, where some 12,000 ISIS fighters are being held, are also “currently under threat”. More than 3,000 of these inmates escaped after being released from Hasaka prison in January, and it took more than a week to capture and control most of them.

Turkey’s attack on the Syrian Kurds is based on its alleged links to the militant Kurdish militia known as the SDG and the self-proclaimed Mazlum PKK, which it claims is responsible for the November 13 terrorist bombing in Istanbul. Mazloum told me that his forces had nothing to do with the attack and sympathized with the victims. As for the allegation that he has personal ties to PKK terror, he said that “it’s just an excuse” and that he has been working closely with the US and coalition forces for more than 8 years.

Northern Syria is what Turkey seems determined to blow up with reckless actions. When I visited the al-Hol camp with Gen. Michael “Eric” Kurilla, the commander of Centcom, in April, there were about 56,000 people, about 70 percent under the age of 18. There were no Turkish bombers.

Mazloum said the Turkish offensive began on Monday with an attack on a coalition base in Hasaka, where US special operations forces train the SDG. I also visited that base in April and saw the military partnership between the US and the Syrian Kurds that defeated ISIS. As Mazloum reminded me on Wednesday, the Kurdish-led armed forces have paid a heavy price in this campaign, with 12,000 fighters killed.

Mazloum said he expects Turkey to soon launch a ground offensive in northern Syria to take greater control of the Manbij and Kobani areas liberated from Daesh at great cost by the US and its SDG partners. According to him, the United States “takes an ethical responsibility to protect the Kurds in this region from ethnic cleansing.” He urged US officials to pressure Turkey to slow down its offensive before disaster strikes.

Gen. Mark A. Milley spoke with his Turkish counterpart on Wednesday to warn the Turks against attacking restricted areas around American forces. However, a Pentagon official said there was no such sign [the Turks] We are ready for de-escalation.” As the Turkish military’s offensive in northern Syria begins to destabilize the US-led coalition’s tenuous grip on the bloodthirsty remnants of the Islamic State, a reasonable person will ask: “What kind of partner is this?” starts to wonder.

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