US-backed Kurdish forces on Monday pleaded with Washington to halt a Turkish offensive against them as it prepared to send reinforcements to the region.
Turkey’s forces have crossed into northern Syrian to assault the Kurdish-held area of Afrin, raising alarm in Western capitals that Turkish troops are attacking the same fighters who helped defeat the Islamic of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
Turkey says it is targeting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it considers to be a terrorist group. But YPG fighters also make up the bulk of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US-backed rebel group who drove Isil out of its capital in Raqqa.
As Turkish forces intensified their attack, the SDF pleaded with their US allies to restrain Turkey. “The coalition is urged to take its responsibilities towards our forces and our people in Afrin,” said Keno Gabriel, an SDF spokesman.
He warned that the Turkish attack on Kurdish troops would only benefit the remaining fragments of Isil and give them space to regroup. “This Turkish intervention comes to make final victory hollow,” he said.
The SDF said 18 civilians, including women and children, had been killed so far in the offensive. Turkey denied the claim, calling it “nonsense propaganda and baseless lies”.
Turkish state media said that Turkey’s military and their Syrian rebel allies had already taken 15 villages around Afrin and destroyed 170 YPG targets. Turkish troops reportedly opened a new front against Afrin by attacking from a nearby town.
But Kurdish media said that Turkey had also attacked Kurd fighters in eastern Syria, hundreds of miles from the scene of the fighting in Afrin. The Kurdish Hawar news agency said Kurdish and Turkish forces had clashed in the northeastern Hassakeh province.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, said Turkish troops “will take no step back” and expressed frustration with US calls for restraint, accusing the US of arming Kurdish terrorist groups. Mr Erdogan also said that Russia had given its backing to the operation.
Both Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, and Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, said they were concerned over the fighting.
There are a number of British and other Western volunteers fighting with Kurdish forces in northern Syria, raising the prospect that Western citizens might kill Turkish troops or be killed by them.
The involvement of Western citizens in the fighting against Turkish forces would likely add more strain to the already-fraught relationship between Turkey and the rest of Nato.