Even with their hands full confronting, containing and neutralizing the ISIS terror group, the countries of Turkey and Syria somehow managed to find time to further escalate the tensions between them, common enemy aside. Even worse, now their little tiffs are beginning to endanger the lives of deployed forces from their mutual ally the United States.
Fox News reports that at least 70 persons in Syria have been killed by combat operations from Turkey over the weekend, most of them civilians according to Syrian agencies monitoring the conflict. Of course, the Turkish military has their own spin on the events: that at least 25 of the reported Syrian dead were terrorists without a single mention of civilian fatalities, and that their forces were constantly sparing no effort to keep non-combatants out of their line of fire. Complicating matters is the fog of war preventing the verification of casualty figures in Syria, nor their identities.
These escalated attacks from Turkey were sparked by the dead of a soldier and wounding of three others in a Turkish tank crew during a border clash with the Kurdish rebel group YPG this Saturday August 27.
Literally caught in the middle of this shootout are American forces who are leading the coalition charge to eliminate the presence of ISIS in the region. Both Turkey and Syria are US allies, but due to complicated factions within Syria, American soldiers attached to these forces tend to find themselves at odds with conflicting alliances. For example, US Special Forces are working together with the YPG, comprised of Kurds in Syria who are rivals to both Syrian and Turkish Arabs, which also have close contact with other US military units.
But this debacle now threatens to expose to hostile forces the Turkish Incirlik Air Base, which is also home to a US Air Force complement with nuclear weapons that can be deployed against ISIS as an absolute last option. Incirlik is not far away from the Turkey-Syria border, and if Turkish and Syrian Arab forces are too busy fighting it out with the Kurdish YPG, in the worst-case scenario a determined ISIS strike could enable them to seize the nuclear arsenal in Incirlik.
Not helping at all is a Sunday August 28 speech by Turkish president RecepTayyipErdogan, wherein he stressed that his country shall have the same level of determination in combatting both ISIS and the anti-ISIS Kurdish rebel YPG, which is considered just another terror group by Turkey. As he spoke, Turkish warplanes continued hammering away at Kurdish forces close to a town they have just liberated from ISIS control with the help of US covert operators.
US officials have on Monday August 29 released a statement calling the Turkey-Kurdish Syrian clashes “unacceptable”, and have thus made efforts to relocate Kurdish forces with US assets east of the Euphrates River.
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