Ankara: Turkey has completed preparations for a new operation in northern Syria to “destroy” a US-backed Kurdish militia that Ankara considers a terrorist group, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) holds territory east of the Euphrates River, where Turkey has repeatedly threatened to launch a fresh offensive against the militia.
“We are going to destroy the terrorist structure in the east of the Euphrates. We have completed our preparations, plans, programmes regarding this issue,” Erdogan told lawmakers from his ruling party in parliament.
Erdogan appeared to indirectly confirm Turkish state media reports that Turkey’s military fired artillery shells at YPG positions east of the Euphrates in the Kobane region of northern Syria on Sunday. The YPG has held the area since 2015.
“In fact, in the past few days, we have begun real interventions against the terror organisation,” Erdogan said, without giving further details.
“We are going to breathe down the necks of the terror organisation with comprehensive and effective operations soon. As I have always said, we can come suddenly one night.”
Erdogan has previously made similar threats and on Friday gave the YPG a “final warning”.
YPG spokesman Nuri Mahmud told AFP: “Each time Turkey sees the situation in Syria moving towards stability and a political solution, it threatens areas east of the Euphrates and regions in northern Syria.
“The People’s Protection Units will respond to any threat or attack,” he warned, calling such a response “legitimate defense”.
The YPG has worked closely with the United States in the fight against the Islamic State jihadists in Syria, straining relations between Washington and Ankara, which says the militia is a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK has waged a deadly insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 and is blacklisted as a terror group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
– Joint US-Turkey patrols –
In a bid to lower tensions, the United States and Turkey in June agreed to work together in Manbij, west of the Euphrates, after Ankara repeatedly threatened to attack the city.
The YPG holds swathes of territory in Syria’s north and northeast. Manbij is controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group dominated by the YPG.
Turkey and the US agreed to conduct independent, coordinated patrols while troops from both countries began training together earlier this month.
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Tuesday that training had been completed and joint patrols would begin.
Akar added that Turkey’s next target would be east of the Euphrates.
Earlier this year, Turkish military forces supported Syrian opposition fighters in retaking the western Afrin region from the YPG during a two-month air and ground offensive dubbed “Olive Branch”.
Ankara previously launched an offensive between 2016 and 2017 against IS on its border with Syria, as well as stopping areas under YPG control from linking up.
Following several years of tension, there were signs of relations easing between Washington and Ankara after an American pastor, who had been detained in Turkey for two years, was released on October 12.