ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria said Wednesday they are temporarily suspending their campaign against the last batch of territory held by Islamic State militants in northeast Syria, accusing Turkey of jeopardizing their efforts.
In a new spike in tensions along the border, Turkey said its military shelled Kurdish positions across the border in Syria, east of the Euphrates River. It was the second time this week Turkish artillery targeted Kurdish positions in northeast Syria, an area where troops of the U.S.-led coalition are also based.
The U.S.-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces said Turkey has carried out at least six attacks against villages along the borders, killing one fighter and a border guard and damaging properties.
The SDF accused Turkey of supporting the IS militants in their advances, saying it was responsible for “temporarily stopping the battle to fight terrorism carried out by our forces against the last holdout of the terrorist group.”
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Such continued attacks on Kurdish positions, the statement said, “would cause a long-term halt to our military campaign.”
It is the second time SDF has halted its months-long campaign against IS in northern Syria in the wake of rising tension with Turkey. Earlier this year, a Turkish offensive against a Kurdish enclave in northwest Syria prompted the SDF to declare a halt to its operations. At the time, the SDF said it sent its fighters to defend the enclave, and accused Turkey of jeopardizing the anti-IS campaign.
Turkey considers the militia a terror threat and an extension of Kurdish rebels waging an insurgency within Turkey. U.S. support for the Kurdish-led forces has resulted in increased tension between Washington and Ankara.
Despite an agreement between Ankara and Washington to cooperate in Syria in a strategic town in the north, Turkey had recently threatened to expand its operations in Syria to go after Kurdish forces working in northeast Syria, where the campaign against IS continues.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this week his country has finalized plans for a “comprehensive and effective” operation to drive the Kurdish militia from the region.
The state-run Anadolu news agency said four Kurdish fighters were killed and six were wounded in the attack on Wednesday. It said Turkish artillery units targeted Kurdish militiamen in Syria’s Kobani region, a stronghold of the Kurdish fighters. The Turkish defense ministry later said the Kurdish militia fired on Turkish targets and that Turkish troops retaliated, killing 10 fighters. The Associated Press could not immediately verify the death toll.