Syrian rebels say ready to back Turkish intervention in northeast
Syrian rebels said on Sunday they were ready to join Turkish troops in a possible new offensive threatened by Turkey against Kurdish YPG fighters in northern Syria to seize back largely Arab populated towns and villages held by Kurdish-led forces.
Two senior commanders said orders were given to heads of units of the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) to take an offensive stance as the Turkish military step up mortar shelling and drone strikes in territory the YPG control.
"Readiness can happen in a day or two. There are thousands of fighters ready to participate alongside the Turkish military," Captain Abdul Salam Abdul Razak, a prominent Syrian opposition commander told Reuters.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week Ankara would soon launch new military operations along its southern borders to create safe zones 30 km (20 miles) deep to combat what he characterized as terrorist threats from these regions.
Ankara has conducted three incursions into northern Syria since 2016, seizing hundreds of kilometers of land and pushing some 30 km deep into the country, in operations targeting mainly the US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.
Ankara which regional intelligence sources say has at least 18,000 troops inside Syria, says the YPG is linked to an insurgency on Turkish territory led by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Two main goals are Tel Rafaat, a town where thousands of Arabs have been displaced and Kobani, a Kurdish majority city, whose capture would allow Turkey to link the towns of Jarablus and Tal Abyad it now controls, a Syrian opposition military officer said.
Turkey last week dismantled parts of a concrete wall near Kobani which Ankara had built along the 911-km-long border with Syria, in a move to push forces into the border town, two rebel sources said.
A senior opposition commander in touch with Turkish military however said it was not certain the military operation would start soon, adding it could be postponed until "further notice."
Erdogan's vow to undertake the incursion coincides with Turkey raising stakes in his row with NATO partners over Finland and Sweden joining the alliance.
Washington has expressed concern at any new offensive in northern Syria saying it would undermine regional stability and put US troops at risk.
A YPG source who is not authorized to speak publicly said at least several thousand troops have been redeployed and sent to Kobani and other threatened towns.
"All options are open in the next few days," he said.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Sunday they were taking "the necessary measures" to confront a "potential invasion."
The YPG which sought Russia's help to halt a Turkish advance in a previous incursion, conducted in the last few days joint patrols near the frontline with Turkey-backed rebels, he added.
Moscow was also sending more military flights to Qamishli airport where the YPG has left under the control of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad even though the city itself is under its control, another Kurdish source said.