Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that his country’s air operations against the YPG militia in northern Syria were only the beginning and that it would launch a land operation there when convenient.
Erdogan said on Wednesday that 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 been conducting operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and groups it considers to be affiliated, such as the YPG, or People’s Protection Units.
“We are continuing the air operation and will come down hard on the terrorists from land at the most convenient time for us,” Erdogan said in a speech to his AK Party politicians in parliament.
“We have formed part of this corridor (and) will take care of it starting with places such as Tal Rifaat, Manbij and Ayn al-Arab (Kobane), which are the sources of trouble,” he added.
Erdogan had said on Tuesday that Turkey’s military operations in Syria would not be limited only to an air operation.
Turkey has previously mounted major military operations in Syria against the largely Kurdish YPG militia. The YPG shares close ideological links to the PKK, and Turkey has long labelled it the Syrian wing of the organisation.
While the PKK is a designated “terrorist” group in Turkey, the United States and the European Union and many other Western countries back the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against ISIL (ISIS).
Ankara launched the air operations at the weekend, saying they were retaliation for an Istanbul bomb attack a week earlier that killed six people, and which authorities blamed on the PKK and the YPG. Nobody has claimed responsibility and the PKK and YPG have denied involvement.
Turkey has for months signalled its intention to launch a ground operation against the YPG in northern Syria, hoping to root it out from the Syrian side of the Turkey-Syria border.
Western countries, as well as Russia and Iran, have put pressure on Turkey to not attack.
Speaking on Wednesday at talks on Syria between Iran, Russia and Turkey in the Kazakh capital, Astana, senior Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev said that Moscow had asked Ankara to refrain from a full-scale ground offensive in Syria.
“We hope our arguments will be heard in Ankara and other ways of resolving the problem will be found,” Lavrentyev said.
Meanwhile, the United States has conveyed serious concerns to Turkey, a NATO ally, about the impact of escalation on the goal of fighting ISIL (ISIS) fighters in Syria.
“Recent air strikes in Syria directly threatened the safety of US personnel who are working in Syria with local partners to defeat ISIS and maintain custody of more than ten thousand ISIS detainees,” the Pentagon’s spokesman, Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder, said in a statement.
Turkey air attacks
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said the army had hit 471 targets in Syria and Iraq since the weekend in what he said was Turkey’s biggest air operation of recent times.
He received briefings and gave instructions late on Tuesday in a video conference with the chief of general staff, the land forces commander and the commanders of border units, his ministry said on Wednesday.
It cited him as saying 254 militants had been “neutralised” in the operation, a term generally used to be mean killed, but that can also mean wounded.
The SDF said the Turkish military attacked north and eastern Syria for a third day on Tuesday, using aircraft, drones and heavy artillery, with civilian infrastructure including hospitals and a school among the targets hit.
The SDF media centre said there had been six airstrikes by warplanes and six drone strikes on Tuesday, with nearly 500 artillery shells hitting the region. It previously said 15 civilians and fighters were killed in Turkish strikes in recent days.