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US officials say Turkey ‘well aware’ of their concerns over Syria offensive

Erdogan

The Biden administration is pushing Turkey to back off its planned offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, US officials told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Ankara would soon begin military operations aimed at establishing a 30-kilometer “safe zone” along its southern border. Erdogan said the operation will initially target Kurdish "terrorists” in northern Syria’s Tal Rifaat and Manbij. 

“The Turkish government is very well aware of our views. We have had a series of engagements with them,” Barbara Leaf, the assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing focused on US policy on Syria. 

Why it matters: Ankara considers the Kurdish YPG militia that forms the backbone of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has carried out a decades-long insurgency in Turkey. 

The Biden administration acknowledges Turkey’s security concerns but has warned that a cross-border operation in northern Syria could harm the civilian population, put US troops at risk and undermine the fight against the Islamic State.

Dana Stroul, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, told the Senate panel that a large-scale Turkish invasion would further strain the already under-resourced SDF. The SDF has also warned it would be forced to pause its anti-ISIS operations

What’s next: Erdogan hasn’t provided a timeline for the planned incursion but says it could happen “suddenly.” 

Leaf told the committee on Wednesday that the administration is pressing Turkey to back down from its threatened invasion. 

“We are completely unstinting in our efforts with the Turkish government to back them off on this ill-considered venture,” Leaf said. 

Know more: US and Syrian Kurdish officials told Amberin Zaman and Jared Szuba that they are taking Turkish threats of an intervention seriously. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday reaffirmed Moscow's “understanding” of Turkish security concerns along the Syrian border, reports Nazlan Ertan.