An apparently successful U.S.-Kurdish offensive against the Islamic State group has laid bare the clash of interests that have vexed the U.S.-led campaign against the extremist group in Syria.
AKCAKALE, Turkey — After receiving a crush of 13,000 Syrian refugees in less than a week, Turkey on Saturday closed a key border crossing to Syria and complained that a combined U.S.-Kurdish offensive against the Islamic State group was driving Arabs and Turkmen out of Syria.
With Kurdish forces reported closing in on Islamic State-controlled Tal Abyad, the Syrian town across from Akcakale, the apparently successful offensive against the extremists has laid bare the clash of interests that have vexed the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria.
On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused “the West” of killing Arabs and Turkmen in Syria, and replacing them with Kurdish militia affiliated with the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK by its initials in Kurdish. “The West, which has shot Arabs and Turkmen, is unfortunately placing the PYD and PKK in lieu of them,” Erdogan said.
The PYD, or Democratic Union Party, is a Syrian Kurdish political party affiliated with the PKK, which has been declared a terrorist group by Turkey and the United States. The PYD’s armed wing, the People’s Protection Unit, or YPG, is credited, with help from an intensive U.S. bombing campaign, with holding off Islamic State group fighters at Kobani after a four-month siege.
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Arabs and Turkmen who have fled Syria use more caustic terms to condemn the Kurdish offensive, which also is backed by U.S. airstrikes. They charge that YPG militias have stolen their homes and livestock, burned their documents and claimed the land as theirs. “They forced us from our village and said to us ‘This is Rojava,’ ” the term the YPG uses to describe territory it claims across northern Syria, said Jomah Ahmed, 35, a member of the al Baggara tribe. He arrived from the village of al Fwaida with dozens of members of his extended family before Turkey closed the border.
“They said ‘Go to the al Badiya desert, go to Tadmur, where you belong.’ ” Tadmur, captured last month by the Islamic State group, is more than 100 miles southeast of Tal Abyad.
Tal Abyad is one of the most important crossings between Turkey and Islamic State group-controlled territory. It was at Tal Abyad that Hayat Boumedienne, the wife of the gunman who killed four Jews in a Paris grocery in January, disappeared after fleeing France.
It was also where the Islamic State group delivered 46 Turkish diplomats and three Iraqi employees that its fighters had taken hostage during the capture of Mosul a year ago.
The U.S. Central Command is looking into the accusations about the Kurdish forces’ behavior.