Ankara: Turkey will launch a new operation in Syria within days against a US-backed Kurdish militia that Ankara considers a terrorist group, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday.
“We will start an operation to free the east of the Euphrates from the separatist terrorist organisation in the next few days,” Erdogan said during a speech in Ankara, referring to territory held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Turkey says the YPG is a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
American forces have worked closely with the YPG under the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
“The target is never American soldiers but terrorist organisation members active in the region,” Erdogan told the audience at a defence industry summit.
There are American forces with the SDF east of the Euphrates as well as in the flashpoint city of Manbij, which is west of the river.
Washington’s relationship with the YPG, seen as a key ally, is one of the main sources of tensions between Turkey and the United States. Ankara has repeatedly lambasted Washington for providing military support to the Kurdish militia.
Erdogan has previously threatened to attack areas held by the YPG. In a bid to avoid any clash, the NATO allies agreed a “roadmap” for Manbij in June.
Erdogan’s comments came a day after the Pentagon announced the setting up of US observation posts on the northeast Syria border region intended to prevent altercations between the Turkish army and the YPG despite calls from Ankara not to go ahead with the move.
Erdogan claimed Turkey was not being protected from terrorists but “terrorists were being protected” from possible action by Turkey.
Elizabeth Teoman, analyst at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), said Erdogan may be threatening the attacks “to compel a change in US policy regarding the US observation posts along the Syrian-Turkish border”.
She added that “Turkey may attempt to target YPG rear areas without a definitive US presence in the form of an observation posts.”
Turkey has previously launched two operations in northern Syria. The first offensive began in August 2016 with Turkish forces supporting Syrian opposition fighters against IS and was completed by March 2017.
Then in January 2018, Turkish military forces backed Syrian rebels to clear the YPG from its northwestern enclave of Afrin.
In March, the operation was completed with the capture of Afrin city.