- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2018

Coalition commanders with the U.S.-led operation fighting Islamic State in Syria temporarily suspended operations Thursday, as Turkish forces launched a new offensive into Kurdish-held areas along the Syrian border.

Turkish forces launched a new round of artillery attacks against Syrian territories along Ankara’s southeastern border, shortly after Turkish police seized a vehicle in the border town of Mardin, filled with nearly 600 pounds of explosives, according to reports by state-run outlet Anadolu Agency. Since then, Turkish forces have unleashed a barrage of mortars and artillery into areas in and around Mardin and the city of Kobane.

The offensive became so intense that officials from the American-led mission in Syria and northern Iraq fighting ISIS halted operations by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) against the terror group to focus on the Turkish campaign.

“The SDF temporarily suspended offensive actions against ISIS in response to cross-border attacks by Turkey. We have been in communication w/both Turkey and the SDF to de-escalate the situation,” Command spokesman Col. Sean Ryan said in a Twitter post.

Since the beginning of the American-backed war against ISIS in 2014, U.S. forces have routinely collaborated with Arab and Kurdish paramilitary forces in Iraq and Syria.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, play a large role in the Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF — the loose-knit group of Arab and Kurdish paramilitaries that drove ISIS from its Iraqi and Syrian redoubts in Mosul and Raqqa respectively. The YPG is the armed faction of the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, which Turkey has labeled as a terrorist organization.

Ankara blamed the YPG for the explosive-laden vehicle and Mardin. On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated Turkey was ready to deal a decisive blow to YPG in Syria.

“We have started active intervention operations against the terror organization in the last couple of days. We will soon come down hard on the terror organization with more extensive and effective operations,” the Turkish leader said in a speech in Ankara.

But YPG spokesman Nur Mahmud told the Voice of America Wednesday that “Turkish threats create more instability in this country,” which could only benefit Islamic State.

In Washington, State Department officials urged Turkey to scale back its ongoing offensive, citing concerns that American military advisers embedded with SDF units in Syria could be caught in the crossfire.

Ankara’s decision to launch “unilateral military strikes” in northern Syria have roiled U.S. operations in the country, State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said Wednesday.

Any strikes “by any party, particularly as American personnel may be present or in the vicinity, are of great concern to us,” he told reporters in Washington at the time.

News of Ankara’s new offensive around Mardin comes the same day as Washington has officially begun joint military patrols with their Turkish counterparts. The patrols in the Syrian enclave of Manbij part of an overarching roadmap between the U.S. and Turkey designed to ensure ongoing tensions between the two NATO allies in northern Syria do not boil over into open conflict.

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