U.S., Turkey may wage proxy war in Syria – report

Armed proxies of the United States and Turkey may soon clash in the Kurdish enclave of Manbij, journalist Carlo Munoz reported for the Washington Times, citing analysts.

The two countries’ militaries are on a collision course and the next few days could be tense, Munoz said.

Accidents aside, “I think it is a real risk” that Turkish troops or their proxy forces in northern Syria could set their sights on American forces in Manbij," said Jennifer Cafarella, senior intelligence planner at the Institute for the Study of War, according to Munoz.

Turkey launched a military incursion into Kurdish-held Afrin more than two weeks ago alongside the Free Syrian Army, a hotchpotch of rebel groups that includes re-named al Qaeda militants. They are attacking members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) made up largely of the U.S.-supported People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Washington stations hundreds of troops in Manbij as an observer and training force for SDF activities, which include fighting the Islamic State (ISIS).

Local reports of Turkish-trained proxies engaging in brief skirmishes with SDF troops and their U.S. advisers near Manbij have already begun to surface, Cafarella said. Any clashes between U.S. and Turkish forces will probably involve the proxies, rather than American and Turkish troops trading fire, she said.

 “This is a dangerous moment”, said Sarhang Hamasaeed, director of Middle East programmes at the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace, according to Munoz.

Although the two NATO allies have an interest in avoiding a conflict, clashing declarations from Ankara and Washington create a “situation on the ground [that] is dangerous enough for accidents to happen,” Hamasaeed said.

Munoz is the Washingon Times' U.S. defence and security correspondent. He previously worked as a correspondent with the Stars and Stripes Mideast bureau and also reported on U.S. and foreign military operations in South America, Cuba and the Asia-Pacific region.