Turkey threatens solo army operation in northeast Syria

Source: Associated Press

Turkey’s president threatened Saturday to launch a military operation into northeastern Syria, where U.S. troops are deployed and have been trying to defuse tension between Washington’s two allies — Ankara and the Syrian Kurds.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threats were a warning that a U.S.-Turkish deal to secure Syria’s troubled border was faltering. He said the Turkish military operation against the U.S-backed Kurdish forces could begin “maybe today, maybe tomorrow.”

“We have given all kinds of warning regarding the east of the Euphrates to the relevant parties. We have acted with enough patience,” Erdogan said.

The Turkish leader has repeatedly expressed his frustration with Washington’s support for Kurdish groups in Syria. His threats continued despite a deal reached with Washington in August to carry out joint patrols and move Syrian Kurdish fighters away from the border.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said it is committed to the agreement between Turkey and the U.S. to preserve stability in the region.

“However we will not hesitate to turn any unprovoked attack by Turkey into an all-out war on the entire border to DEFEND ourselves and our people,” the spokesman for the SDF Mustafa Bali tweeted Saturday.

But Turkey views the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, as an extension of a Kurdish insurgency within its own borders, and expects the U.S. to stop supporting them. The group, which is loosely linked with the SDF, forms the core of U.S.-backed Syrian forces against the Islamic State group.

Turkey and the U.S. disagree on the size of the area to be monitored by the joint patrols, and also on who is to oversee it. Turkey wants its soldiers to monitor an area as deep as 30 kilometers (19 miles). The U.S. and the Kurds have identified an area only as deep as 14 kilometers (9 miles) deep.

Erdogan has said the joint patrols with the U.S. are not enough and appear to be designed to waste time. He called the joint ground and air patrols a “tale.”

Three joint U.S.-Turkish ground patrols have run since launching almost a month ago. Kurdish forces have moved away from the frontier and set up new local forces to control border posts, and dismantled fortifications considered a threat by Turkey.

The U.S European Command also tweeted Saturday, apparently in response to the Turkish threats, saying the U.S. and Turkish militaries were already working “to address Turkey’s legitimate security concerns.”

“The Department of Defense will be transparent as each phase of the security mechanism is implemented,” it added.

Erdogan said his country wants to send in 2 million Syrian refugees to the area it has called a “safe zone.” But the Syrian Kurdish group administering the area said only those from the area can return— a number likely to be much smaller than the 2 million suggested by Ankara.

Erdogan also demanded an answer from the U.S. on whether it will consider the Syrian Kurdish fighters, its erstwhile allies, “terrorists.”

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