Turkey is sending reinforcements to its border with Syria, Turkish media reported on Sunday, adding that some 100 vehicles, including mounted pick-up trucks and weaponry, had made their way to the area.
The heightened military activity comes days after President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would postpone a planned military operation on the armed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) group in northern Syria, after the United States’s surprise announcement to withdraw its troops from Syria.
Washington has for years supported the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group in Syria, as part of an international coalition dominated by the YPG.
But, on Wednesday, US President Donald Trump said he was ordering a withdrawal of the estimated 2,000 US troops in Syria because ISIL had been defeated, an assessment criticised by many. US officials have said the details were yet finalised, but they expect the country’s forces to be out of Syria by mid-January.
In June, the NATO allies reached an agreement that would see the YPG removed from the area, but Turkey has complained the plan hadn’t been implemented.
Turkish media said the Turkish convoy, headed towards the border district of Kilis, located in the southern province of Hatay, included tanks, howitzers, machine guns and buses carrying commandos.
Turkey’s state media, including TRT and Anadolu Agency, ran live footage from the outskirts of Manbij, a Syrian town in the Elbeyli district, which has been a source of tension between Ankara and Washington.
Part of the military equipment and personnel are to be positioned in posts along the border while some had crossed into Syria via Elbeyli, private Demiroren News Agency said.
“Around 35 tanks and other heavy weapons, carried on board tank carriers, crossed the Jarablos border crossing in the early evening,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP on Saturday.
“They headed for an area near the Sajour River, between Jarablos and Manbij, not far from the front lines where Kurdish fighters of the Manbij Military Council are stationed,” he added.
Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey would take over the fight against the ISIL group in Syria as the US withdraws its troops, adding that the planned operation would target the YPG as well as ISIL in Syria.
Ankara considers the US-backed YPG a “terrorist” group and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged attacks on Turkish soil since the 1980s in demand for autonomy.
In the past two years, Turkey has conducted two offensives into northern Syria, dubbed “Euphrates Shield” and “Olive Branch”.
In 2016, it launched an operation against ISIL, which also aimed to block the YPG from joining up the territory it held in northern Syria. In January 2018, Turkey staged an offensive against Kurdish fighters in its northwestern enclave of Afrin.