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US to end weapons support for Syrian Kurdish YPG, Turkey says

The move to end US weapons support for the YPG comes eight days into a Turkish offensive into Northern Syria
US-backed Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) played a key role in the ousting of the Islamic State group from Northern Syria (AFP)

The United States has told Turkey it will not provide any more weapons to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, the Turkish presidency said on Saturday, as Turkey's offensive against the US-backed YPG in Syria entered its eighth day.

The Turkish incursion to northwest Syria's Afrin region against the YPG has opened a new front in the multi-sided Syrian civil war but has also further strained ties with the US, a NATO ally.

Washington has angered Ankara by providing arms, training and air support to the Syrian Kurdish forces. Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), with which it has been locked in a deadly war for three decades.

The Turkish presidency said in a statement on Saturday that Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and US National Security Adviser H R McMaster held a phone call on Friday in which McMaster confirmed that the United States would no longer provide weapons to the YPG.

On Thursday, the Pentagon said it carefully tracked weapons provided to the YPG and would continue discussions with Turkey, after Ankara urged Washington to end its support for the YPG or risk confronting Turkish forces on the ground in Syria.

Any push by Turkish forces towards Manbij, part of Kurdish-held territory about 100km east of Afrin, could bring them into direct confrontation with US troops deployed there and threaten US plans in northeast Syria.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Saturday called on the United States to withdraw troops immediately from Manbij, where the US has about 2,000 troops, officially as part of the international coalition against the Islamic State group

Speaking to reporters, Cavusoglu also said Turkey wanted to see concrete steps by the US to end its support for the YPG.

On Friday, Erdogan said Turkish forces would sweep Kurdish fighters from the Syrian border and could push all the way east to the frontier with Iraq, a move that risks clashes with US forces allied to the Kurds.

In a sign of growing bilateral tensions, Ankara and Washington disagreed over the main message of a phone call between Erdogan and US President Donald Trump held on Wednesday.

The White House said Trump had urged Erdogan to curtail the military operation in Syria, while Turkey said Erdogan had told Trump that US troops should withdraw from Manbij.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said she had seen media reports about the phone call but was not aware of any change in US posture.

The Turkish presidency said Kalin and McMaster had agreed for Turkey and the United States to remain in close coordination to "avoid misunderstandings".

On Saturday, the Turkish military said it had "neutralised" over 390 opposing fighters as part of Operation Olive Branch. Turkish authorities often use the word "neutralised" in their statements to imply that the those in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.

The military added that during the operation, three Turkish soldiers have been killed and 30 injured, while 13 members of the Turkey's local ally, the Free Syrian Army, have been killed and 24 injured.

The SDF has accused Turkey of exaggerating the number of Kurdish fighters it had killed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, said that 36 civilians in Afrin, including 10 children, have died so far.

A total of 59 YPG fighters and at least 69 fighters from the Turkey-backed FSA have died in clashed, the Observatory said. Seven Turkish soldiers have been killed and another seven are missing, it said

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