Erdogan says Syria ground offensive will be launched by Turkey when 'convenient', Kurds prepare response
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey’s air operations against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria were only the beginning and it would launch a land operation when convenient after an escalation in retaliatory strikes.
He said Turkey was more determined than ever to secure its southern border with a “security corridor”, while ensuring the territorial integrity of both Syria and Iraq, where it has also been conducting operations against Kurdish militants.
“We are continuing the air operation and will come down hard on the terrorists from land at the most convenient time for us,” Erdogan told his AK Party’s lawmakers in a speech in parliament.
“We have formed part of this corridor (and) will take care of it starting with places such as Tel Rifat, Manbij and Ain al-Arab (Kobane), which are the sources of trouble,” he added.
Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies took control of the border areas to the west and east of the Kobane region in previous military incursions.
“We hope our arguments will be heard in Ankara and other ways of resolving the problem will be found,” said Alexander Lavrentyev, special representative of the Russian president for Syria, after a fresh round of Syria talks with Turkish and Iranian delegations in Kazakhstan.
Lavrentyev said the United States was following a “destructive” course in northeastern Syria, and resolving the Kurdish issue would be an important factor in stabilising the situation in the region.
Kurds, he said, were “hostages of the United States”, which hindered the resolution of the crisis.
The United States has allied itself with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the YPG Kurdish militia, in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, causing a deep rift with Turkey.
“Without the US presence, the Kurdish issue could have been resolved very quickly, I am sure,” said .
Russia, Turkey and Iran pledged in a joint statement after the talks to further resist “separatist plans aimed at undermining Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and threatening the national security of neighbouring countries, including through cross-border attacks and infiltration”.
Lavrentyev said the sides have discussed getting China involved in further Astana talks as an observer, an idea to which Iran has agreed, while Turkey was still considering it. Meanwhile, the United States has conveyed serious concerns to Turkey, a NATO ally, about the impact of escalation on the goal of fighting Islamic State militants in Syria.
Turkey has previously launched military incursions in Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia, regarding it as a wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey, the United States and the European Union designate as a terrorist group.
Ankara launched air operations at the weekend in retaliation for an Istanbul bomb attack a week earlier that killed six people, and which it blamed on the YPG. Nobody has claimed responsibility and the PKK and YPG have denied involvement.
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said the army had hit 471 targets in Syria and Iraq since the weekend. His ministry cited him as saying 254 militants had been “neutralised”, a term generally used to be mean killed.
YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander Mazloum Abdi said in an interview with Al-Monitor news website that his home city of Kobane would be the “true target” of any ground offensive, being of strategic importance for Turkey in connecting areas in Syria that it already controls.
He criticised a “weak response” by Russia and Washington to the Turkish air strikes.
The United States' top general spoke to his Turkish counterpart on Wednesday, the US military said, as Erdogan said that Turkey's air operations against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria were only the beginning and it would launch a land operation when convenient.
The US military statement did not mention Syria by name, but said US General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "discussed several items of mutual strategic interest."
The statement added that Turkey was a key NATO ally and "the US values its strategic bilateral relationship."