A Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighter. Reuters/Khalil Ashawi
A Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighter. Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

As the US, Russia and Syria’s Assad regime watch Turkey’s military operation against Kurds in northwest Syria grind on, Ankara is pointing fingers.

Speaking ahead of what will no doubt be an awkward visit by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Washington of intentionally stalling the fight against Islamic State militants as an excuse to maintain ties with Syrian Kurds. The YPG, as the main Kurdish force fighting Turkey is known, is considered a terrorist group by Ankara, and has been an ally of the US in the fight against ISIS. They are the target of Turkey’s operation “Olive Branch,” which aims to create a Turkish-controlled buffer zone between Turkey and Syria.

“[US-Turkey] relations are at a very critical stage,” Cavusoglu was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. “Either we will improve ties or these ties will totally break down.”

The US has publicly said it is not supporting YPG forces in the area, despite longstanding cooperation with the group.

In a new twist, the Assad regime, which like Turkey lives in constant friction with the independence-minded Kurds, has apparently offered quiet support for its erstwhile foes, allowing Kurdish forces to traverse regime-controlled territory to reinforce fighters in the northwest.

“There are different ways to get reinforcements to Afrin but the fundamental route is via regime forces. There are understandings between the two forces … for the sake of delivering reinforcements to Afrin,” Kino Gabriel, spokesman for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), was quoted by Reuters as saying.

By most accounts the operation has been more slow and painful than Ankara was hoping for. Russia’s TASS news agency reported, citing a pro-Kurdish source, that YPG fighters have been containing the attacks of the Turkish-backed forces, managing to destroy four tanks on Monday.

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