Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country’s plan for a new military offensive in neighbouring Syria will remain on the agenda until its security concerns are addressed.
Erdogan, who announced earlier this year that Turkey would launch a new offensive in northeast Syria against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), held talks on Syria with his Russian and Iranian counterparts in Tehran on Tuesday.
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During the talks, he sought support for a new Turkish operation against the YPG.
Speaking to reporters on his return flight late on Tuesday, Erdogan said the three countries were united in counterterrorism efforts despite having different views on some Syria-related issues, adding that he believes all three think alike regarding the YPG.
Turkish media outlets published Erdogan’s remarks on Wednesday.
Ankara views the YPG as a “terrorist” organisation and as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It has long made it clear it wants to clear the YPG from the border area.
The PKK has waged a decades-long armed campaign for an independent Kurdish state. Tens of thousands of people have died as a result of the fighting.
Erdogan accused the YPG, a key US ally in fighting ISIL (ISIS) in Syria, of “draining” Syrian petrol to sell it to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. He also said the United States must withdraw from the east of the Euphrates river and halt its support for “terrorist” groups.
“America has to leave east of the Euphrates now. This is an outcome that came out of the Astana process,” Erdogan was quoted as saying by the state-run Anadolu Agency, referring to the trilateral talks launched in 2017 by Turkey, Russia and Iran to pursue a political solution to Syria’s conflict.
“Turkey expects this as well because it is America that feeds the terrorist groups there,” Erdogan told reporters.
He added: “You see that the American [military] staff there train members of the terrorist organisation [YPG/PKK]. During this training, they are waving the flag of the regime there. Why?”
“Their job is to commit a terrorist act against the Turkish soldiers there. Here, too, they think they are deceiving the Turkish army by waving the regime’s flag there. We won’t be fooled.”
In 2019, Turkey launched what it called “Operation Peace Spring”, a cross-border military operation into northern Syria against the YPG. It was the third military operation in three years targeting Syrian-Kurdish fighters.
Its objective was to also establish a “safe zone” stretching 32km (20 miles) into Syria’s northeast region to host Syrian refugees. In addition to that, Turkey was hoping to create a buffer to push Kurdish fighters beyond the area.
Following 10 days of fighting, a deal was reached where it was agreed the YPG would pull its troops 30km back from the border. Turkey sold the operation as a diplomatic and military victory and agreed with Russia to run joint patrols in the area.
In Tuesday’s meeting, Erdogan said Turkey wants more help from Iran and Russia. The two Syrian allies have previously warned against such operations, and have called instead for a diplomatic solution in Syria.
Iran and Russia also expressed on Tuesday their opposition to foreign intervention and the theft of Syria’s oil and resources, a critique directed at the US.
In a joint statement, the three countries “expressed their determination to continue working together to combat terrorism in all forms and manifestations”. They also announced that the next round of Astana talks will take place in Russia before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Syrian refugees in Turkey expressed fears over a Turkish plan announced in May to repatriate some one million Syrians to the areas under Turkish security control in northern Syria.
They say the area is still a heavily militarised war zone and they are wary of returning.
There are millions of people in Syria’s northeast region, including hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Syrians who fled government-led offensives in other parts of the country.
The war-torn country is suffering not only from the consequences of the long-running conflict but also from a severe economic crisis. According to the United Nations, more than 90 percent of the people live below the poverty line.