France said on Friday it is not planning a unilateral military operation in Syria outside the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group after senior Kurdish officials claimed Paris intended to send troops.
“France is not planning any new military operation on the ground in northern Syria outside the international coalition against Daesh,” President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in a statement, using another term for IS.
Macron met with a delegation from the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Thursday, and Kurdish official Asya Abdullah told reporters afterwards that France was planning on sending “new French troops to Manbij”.
“The cooperation will be reinforced,” she said.
Khaled Issa, the official representative in France of Syria’s Kurdistan, had added: “France is going to reinforce its military presence.”
The comments added to heightened international tensions as Turkey wages an offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria whom it views as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey.
Ankara launched an air and ground offensive in Afrin in January to oust the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Kurdish fighters who make up the bulk of the SDF, viewed as terrorists by Turkey.
Turkey has threatened to expand its military operation against Kurdish fighters, who ousted IS from the town of Manbij near the Turkish border, and repeated the threat on Wednesday.
But the US-led coalition fighting jihadists in Syria, of which France is a member, sees the YPG as a key player in the fight against IS and has warned that Turkey’s operation risks distracting from that battle.
Macron had on Thursday offered to help establish a “dialogue” between the SDF and Turkey “with help from France and the international community” — an idea angrily rejected by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday.
“We are extremely saddened by France’s… wrong stance on this issue,” Erdogan said during a speech in Ankara.