Erdogan signals a Turkish ground offensive in Syria, Iraq


Russia and the US are calling for de-escalation amid Turkish cross-border raids on Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced a possible ground offensive in northern Syria and Iraq after Ankara’s forces launched cross-border airstrikes on what they say were locations used by Kurdish groups they blame for a bombing in the center of Istanbul.

The escalating tensions have sparked global concern, with Russia and the United States on Monday urging Ankara to exercise restraint.

Speaking to reporters on a flight home from Qatar after attending the World Cup opening, Erdogan said Turkey’s ongoing military campaign in northern Syria and northern Iraq “is not limited to just an air operation.”

“The competent authorities, our defense ministry and the chief of staff will decide together how much force our ground forces should use,” he said.

“We will pay those who disturb us on our territory.”

The Turkish operation – dubbed Claw Sword – was launched on Sunday, a week after a bomb attack on Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue killed six people and injured 81.

Ankara blamed the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Group (PKK) and affiliated Syrian Kurdish groups for the November 13 attack, though the Kurdish fighters have denied any involvement.

Turkey’s defense ministry said Claw Sword — including land-based firearms — killed 184 combatants and destroyed 89 targets, including shelters, bunkers, caves and tunnels.

The state-run Anadolu news agency, meanwhile, reported rocket fire from Syrian territory, killing two people on Monday when projectiles hit the Turkish border region of Karkamis.

The US — which largely relied on Kurdish militias to defeat the ISIL (ISIS) group in Syria — called for de-escalation.

“The United States extends its sincere condolences for the loss of civilian life in Syria and Turkey,” said a statement from State Department spokesman Ned Price.

“We are urging de-escalation in Syria to protect civilian lives and support the common goal of defeating ISIS. We will continue to oppose any uncoordinated military action in Iraq that violates Iraq’s sovereignty,” he said.

Russia also called on Turkey to refrain from using “excessive” military force.

Alexander Lavrentyev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to Syria, told reporters that Turkey had not informed Moscow in advance of its raids on its neighboring countries.

Speaking in the Kazakh capital, where a tripartite meeting between Russia, Turkey and Iran on Syria is taking place, Lavrentyev said he hoped to “persuade our Turkish colleagues to refrain from excessive force on Syrian territory”.

“Russia has for months … done everything possible to prevent large-scale ground operations,” he added.

Erdogan has been threatening another large-scale military operation against PKK-affiliated forces in northern Syria for months, but Russia, Iran and many Western countries have warned of the plans.

Turkey has previously conducted military ground operations in Syria, targeting areas just across the border, and has seized huge swaths of territory.

The Turkish government believes a so-called “safe zone” along the Syrian side of the border is needed to allow for the voluntary return of Syrian refugees, as well as stop groups Ankara considers affiliated with the PKK, such as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), against an attack on Turkey.

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