(Reuters) The Turkish army and allied Syrian rebels attacked villages held by U.S.-allied militias near the city of Manbij in northern Syria on Wednesday, a spokesman for the militias said, an escalation of Turkey’s military campaign in the border area.
There was no immediate comment from Turkey, which is waging its “Euphrates Shield” campaign with Syrian rebels to drive both Islamic State and Kurdish militias away from the frontier.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said this week Manbij was the next target of the campaign following the capture of al-Bab from Islamic State last week.
The new attack focused on a string of villages controlled by the Manbij Military Council, part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, the spokesman for the Manbij Military Council told Reuters.
“There is a very big attack by the Euphrates Shield and Turkish army on the villages and areas of the Manbij Military Council,” Sharfan Darwish, the spokesman, said. He named eight villages some 27 km (17 miles) west of Manbij. “There are fierce clashes … and heavy artillery bombardment.”
The SDF includes the powerful Kurdish YPG militia, viewed by Turkey as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.
The YPG helped capture Manbij from Islamic State last year in a U.S.-backed campaign fought under the SDF banner. The YPG has subsequently said it has withdrawn from Manbij. But Turkey continues to assert that the group remains in the city.
Darwish said the SDF was exercising “self restraint” since Erdogan’s comments, but would defend Manbij if necessary.