WASHINGTON – Turkey apparently is carrying out a threat to attack Kurds in Syria by placing special forces in the country’s largest city, Aleppo, in response to a request from the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra Front and associated jihadist groups, a Kurdish source told Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
The Turkish troops are in Aleppo to back the Kataeb al-Etelaf jihadist group, which is supported not only by Turkey but also Saudi Arabia, the source said. In effect, the Kataeb al-Etelaf has sought to extend Turkey’s interests by attacking, without success, concentrations of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.
The source said the Turkish special forces troops, believed to number about 100, are with the Turkish army’s intelligence service, or MIT. The source said the MIT troops entered Aleppo after passing the Bab al-Hawa border crossing near the Syrian city of Idlib in the northern part of Syria, near the Turkish border.
In addition to aiding Nusra, Turkish special forces are assisting other Sunni jihadist groups, including Jund Al-Aqsa, Ahrar Al-Sham, Ajnad Al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army’s Division 13.
A number of these groups belong to the organized opposition front established by the Saudis to engage the Russians and the U.S. in peace talks being held off and on in Geneva.
Aleppo holds major historical significance for Turkey, since it became part of the Ottoman Empire in the early 16th century and was strategically located on the trade route between then-Anatolia, or modern-day Turkey, and the east.
For Turkey, the Kurdish source told G2 Bulletin, the objective of recapturing this section now under the control of Syrian Kurds is to sever Kurdish control over the Turkish-Syrian border, which the Syrian Kurds are holding to resist the spread of ISIS in northern Syria.
By holding the position, the Kurds also maintain control over an area that joins with the Kurdish-dominated area in southern Turkey. Combined with northern Syria, the Kurds seek autonomy over a stretch of territory from Kobani all the way into Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq.
Because the YPG units have been fighting ISIS in northern Syria, the U.S. has been providing military equipment to them. The development also has further irritated Ankara, which believes the YPG will use the arms ultimately against Turkey.
“The United States has gone further than any country in indirectly recognizing Syrian Kurdistan,” said Aaron Stein, senior resident fellow for Turkey with the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
Writing for the Atlantic Council, Stein said the U.S. military works directly with the YPG, which directs airstrikes along the Syrian-Iraq border and near Manbij, an ISIS-held town west of the Euphrates River.