US ‘very concerned’ about potential Turkish incursion into Syria
The top US military general for the Middle East said Thursday he was “very concerned” about Turkey’s potential land operation into Syria, which could lead to an influx of Islamic State fighters.
“I’m very, very concerned about that because that can destabilise the region and call our SDF partners off of the [ISIS] prisons. They have about 28 prisons across northern Syria,” Centcom head, General Erik Kurilla said.
Northeastern Syria’s Hasakah region is home to 14 overcrowded prisons where approximately 10,000 men and hundreds of adolescent boys are being held. Al-Roj and al-Hol camps are home to around 60,000 people: around 20,000 from Syria; 31,000 from Iraq; and up to 12,000, including 4,000 women and 8,000 children, from other countries.
Turkey views the Syrian Democratic Forces as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a decades-long war for independence against Turkey. The US considers the group, known as the PKK, a terrorist organisation, but refuses to cut ties with the SDF, which is Washington’s main partner in the battle against IS.
Turkey launched its first incursion into Syria in 2016. Ankara blamed a November bombing in Istanbul on Kurdish militants and has since threatened a new assault. The Kurds denied involvement.
Kurilla said a new Turkish incursion could lead to the release of IS prisoners. He pointed to a January breakout of almost 4,000 IS detainees which lead to heavy fighting between the militants and the SDF.
“It could cause them to pull off of those [prisons] and put those at risk,” Kurilla told reporters in a phone briefing on Thursday.
“So anything we can do to de-escalate the situation and prevent that incursion by the Turks will be important,” he added.
The US has been lobbying Turkey against an incursion over the last several weeks, but analysts are sceptical Washington’s warnings will dissuade the Turks. The US is also walking a tightrope as it looks to keep Turkey in its camp over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.