Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey is determined to launch a military offensive against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria regardless of the results of ongoing negotiations with the United States (US) on a planned safe zone.
Speaking to provincial leaders of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara on Friday, Erdogan vowed that “those who put their trust in foreign powers in the region would be put under ground.”
“Whatever the outcome of safe zone talks with the United States, we will obliterate the east of the River Euphrates. We will find a lasting solution to terror,” Erdogan said.
The YPG which forms the central command structure of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting against Islamic State (ISIS), is a Kurdish militia that Turkey regards as a terrorist group.
This is due to its affiliation with the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a rebellious group which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.
Turkey has recently been deploying troops and equipment including heavy weapons, , armored vehicles and tanks, signalling a third possible offensive on the YPG in Syria.
Most parts of the northern and north-western regions of Syria were taken under Turkish control during the two previous operations against the YPG in 2017 and 2018.
Last week a series of talks over the latest developments in northern Syria were held between Turkey with a US delegation led by Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey.
Turkish authorities have not been satisfied with the US proposal presented by the special envoy and signaled an imminent military offensive unless an agreement on a planned safe zone in Syria could be reached with the US.
“We expressed all our views and proposals to the [US] delegation. We expect them to review these proposals and give their answers immediately. We once again stressed that we cannot tolerate a delay and we will take the initiative if necessary,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told journalists following a meeting with military commanders on Thursday.
Similarly, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that Ankara had run out of patience with Washington regarding its reluctance to proceed with the safe zone establishment.
“This is an incredibly sensitive issue. We have American troops present there. We all continue to work closely with Turkey. Ambassador Jeffrey is working very hard on this issue of the safe zone with Turkey,” US State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus responded to the Turkish statements.
In June, US President Donald Trump had threatened Turkey with “devastating it economically if it hits the Kurds” after the US withdrawal from northern Syria.
Turkey has negotiated the safe zone issue with the US which backs the YPG in the area, an ally in defeating the ISIS in Syria.
On June 4 last year after Trump abruptly announced his intention to withdraw US forces from Syria, the two NATO allies reached an agreement on a roadmap for the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij, the east of the Euphrates river and the formation of a local civil administration.
Later, the US administration changed the course of its withdrawal plans after facing pressure from its European allies. A significant legion of US forces, along with European troops will lead the mission for the formation of a safe zone.
Turkey has long criticized the US administration accusing it of stalling the process as no concrete steps have yet been taken on the establishment of a safe zone.
Turkish authorities have been determined to develop a safe zone in northern Syria for several reasons. One is the aim of relocating and accommodating some of the millions of refugees to northern Syria and another is to contain the expansion of YPG militia in the region.
ISIS aims to create an Islamic state known as a caliphate across Iraq and Syria. Redrawing the map of the Middle East, ISIS controlled more than 34,000 square miles in Syria and Iraq in 2014, spreading from the Mediterranean coast to the south of Baghdad.
US-backed coalition forces have been notably successful in taking back territory since 2017.