Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday repeated his vow Turkish forces would soon launch a military offensive in northern Syria against the US-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
His comments on Tuesday reported by Turkish media outlets echoed those that he made on Sunday during the opening ceremony of the Istanbul-Izmir motorway in the northwestern province of Bursa.
“As long as the structure continues to grow like cancer on our southern border, with heavy weaponry provided by our allies, Turkey cannot feel secure,” Erdogan told Turkish ambassadors at a conference in Ankara, referring to the US backing for the YPG.
The president vowed that Turkey would very soon move to a new phase in the process initiated with two previous military campaigns in the region in 2016 and 2018 dubbed Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch. This military operations were undertaken in a bid to dislodge Kurdish militia fighters from close to Turkey’s southern border.
“We entered Afrin, Jarablus, and Al-Bab. Now we will enter the east of the Euphrates,” Erdogan had said on Sunday.
Further, Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has sent mobilization orders to public institutions in the eastern provinces of Sanliurfa and Mardin, ordering them to be prepared for the military operation.
On Tuesday, before Erdogan’s latest statements on the offensive, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper repeated US objections, declaring that the US administration would prevent Turkey’s unilateral incursion.
“Clearly we believe any unilateral action by them [Turkey] would be unacceptable. What we are going to do is prevent unilateral incursions that would upset, again, these mutual interests … the US, Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) share with regard to northern Syria,” Esper was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The SDF, a multi-ethnic group with a central command structure formed by the YPG, is a key player in the international coalition in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS).
Turkey regards the Kurdish YPG as a terrorist group due to its affiliation with the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a rebellious group that has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.
The country, therefore, sees the US military support to the group as a threat to its security, accusing the US of stalling the establishment of a safe zone in Syria.
Ankara wants to create the 30 km-deep safe zone with full control over it in order to clear the area east of the Euphrates river of the YPG, while Washington favors a 10 km-deep area with no permanent Turkish troops in it.
The military officials from the two NATO allies held meetings in Ankara on Monday and Tuesday, discussing the safe zone issue.
In an attempt to prevent an attack on the YPG, the US has reportedly proposed a joint US-Turkey operation in the area near the border with 14.5 kilometers (around nine miles) in-depth and 140 kilometers (around 87 miles) in length, clearing the area of the YPG and accepting Turkish patrols with the US and perhaps French forces in the aftermath.
However, Erdogan’s Tuesday statements signaled that he was not satisfied with the US proposals.
Mazloum Kobani, the SDF commander, told Voice of America (VoA) in an interview on Tuesday that the greatest hope to prevent a new Turkish operation lay with the US.
“We believe that the US is the main power that is capable of influencing Turkey’s position and stop its threats against us. The US is the leader of the NATO alliance, and so it has leverage over Turkey within the NATO framework,” Kobani said.
Turkey’s possible military operation will be backed by the National Army, a Turkey-backed Syrian rebel group that fights against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a Reuters report on Monday.
The rebel group had played an important role in Turkey’s two previous military offensives and have again been preparing to assist the Turkish forces in the region in a bid to seize Arab-majority towns held by Kurdish militias, Reuters said.
“There are over 14,000 fighters who are ready to engage in combat operations east of the Euphrates alongside Turkish forces,” Major Youssef Hamoud, the National Army spokesman, told Reuters.