President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the military operation would target two SDF-held towns in northern Syria.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey will target Kurdish armed groups in two towns in northern Syria in an upcoming military operation.
“We are taking another step by establishing a 30 kilometer security zone along our southern border. We will clean Tal Rifat and Manbij from terrorists,” he told a meeting of his ruling party in parliament.
Erdogan said Turkish forces would then proceed, “step by step, into other areas.”
Both towns, located west of the Euphrates, are controlled by the Syrian Kurdish armed group, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Ankara considers the YPG a “terrorist” group and claims it is linked to domestic armed fighters belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey has also designated as a “terrorist” organization. The PKK has waged an armed uprising against Turkey since 1984, and tens of thousands have died in the conflict.
The Turkish government has accused the YPG of attacking Turkish security forces in Syria.
“We will see who supports legitimate Turkish security operations and who tries to oppose them,” Erdogan said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned Turkey against a new military operation and urged Ankara to respect the ceasefire lines established in 2019.
“That’s something we would oppose,” Blinken said at a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“What we fear is that any new offensive would undermine regional stability (and) provide opportunities for malicious actors to exploit instability,” Blinken said.
Turkey has launched three military operations in northern Syria since 2016, seizing areas along the border in what it says is an attempt to secure its border against threats from ISIL (ISIS) and the YPG .
The YPG-linked Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have warned that a military operation by Ankara will undermine efforts to tackle fighters from the armed group ISIS (ISIL) in northeast Syria.
“The SDF have been expecting a possible battle for a while now,” said Farhad Shami, spokesman for the Kurdish-led force.
“In the event of an attack, we will pause our war against the Islamic State group. [ISIL] and start military measures against the Turkish invasion,” he told AFP news agency.
Extension of the “safety zone”
Erdogan said over the weekend that Turkey would not wait for US permission before launching such an operation.
Erdogan told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that an agreement signed in 2019 between the two countries allowed for the creation of a safe zone along the Turkish-Syrian border.
“Its creation is imperative,” Erdogan said.
He also objected to Finland’s and Sweden’s recent NATO membership applications, over what Turkey sees as their leniency towards Kurdish armed groups.
The president doubled down on his objections on Wednesday and said Turkey would not change its stance on Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO bid without seeing ‘binding documents’ demonstrating a hardline approach to those Ankara considers ‘terrorists’ .
Manbij and Tal Rifat are home to large Kurdish populations and lie near the Turkey-Syria border.
Capturing them would allow Erdogan to expand and deepen the so-called “safe zone” along the border where Ankara hopes to resettle Syrian refugees.
But according to Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in Syria, the Turkish operation could trigger a new wave of displacement.
More than 100,000 people were displaced from the city of Afrin alone during the 2018 Turkish operation, according to United Nations estimates. Most people went east of Tal Rifat.