The Kurdish YPG, the powerful militia which controls the bulk of Syria’s Hasakeh Province, is poised to launch a major new offensive against ISIS territory in the Aleppo Province in the coming days, threatening a major chunk of ISIS land, but risking a major blow-up with neighboring Turkey.
The ISIS territory spans from Jarabulus, across the Euphrates River, all the way to the outskirts of Azaz, a strip of territory along the Syria-Turkey border which ISIS has been using as a major source of smuggling, and arguably their most important border crossing.
Turkey has repeatedly opposed any Kurdish offensives in this area, however, saying they view the Euphrates River as a “red line,” warning they would never allow the YPG to cross the river. Materially all of the territory being targeted is on the other side of the Euphrates.
Turkey’s warnings have kept the US from providing the YPG with air support in attacks on Jarabulus so far, and there have been suggestions that Turkey could send ground troops into northern Syria to stop the Kurdish advance.
It’s unclear if the US may back the YPG offensive, but if they don’t, it is possible Russia will provide air support, as they have also been keen to support the Kurds, and would likely see the move as spiting Turkey.
Turkey has viewed the YPG as an extension of the PKK, which they view as a terrorist group and are engaged in a war against. Turkey has long feared that expanded Kurdish independence in Syria would add to the unrest in southeastern Turkey, and indeed their decision to back the Syrian rebels at the start of the civil war was centered on the notion that the Arab nationalist rebels would crack down on the Kurds.