Ankara plans to “clear” the Syrian cities of Tal Rifat and Manbij of “terrorists,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
Turkey will step up efforts to create what it calls a 30-kilometer-wide “safety zone” along the southern border with Syria, the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced on Wednesday.
The Turkish Armed Forces launch a “anti-terrorist” operation, which will mainly target the northern Syrian cities of Tal Rifat and Manbij, he told a meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AK) in Ankara.
The president has not specified the exact date when the operation is to begin. Nor did he disclose the number of troops expected to participate.
Turkey views Kurdish militias in northern Syria as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a militant organization that has been in conflict with Turkey for decades. Founded as a separatist movement seeking independence for Kurds, it later shifted its focus to wider autonomy for Kurds within Turkey. Ankara considers it a terrorist group, as do the US, the EU and some other countries such as Canada and Australia.
“We are entering the new phase of our determination to form a 30 kilometers (20 mi) safe zone along our southern border. We will clear Tal Rifaat and Manbij from terrorists, and we will do the same with other regions step by step.” Erdogan said that on Wednesday.
The Turkish president has also accused Moscow and Washington of breaching their obligations and forcing the withdrawal of Kurdish militias from Syrian regions bordering Turkey. The developments prompted Ankara to launch an operation to “protect the nation” and eliminate what it considers a terrorist threat.
Erdogan first announced his plans last week when he said that Turkey “will shortly take further steps regarding the incomplete portions of the project we have begun on the 30-kilometer-deep safe zone we have established along our southern border.”
In mid-April, Turkey also sent troops into Iraq targeting Kurdish militias in the northern regions of Metina, Zap and Avasin-Basyan in what it called Operation Claw-Lock. Baghdad condemned the operation as a violation of its sovereignty, but has been unable to do anything about it.
Ankara has conducted several military operations against the Kurds in northern Syria – in 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Turkey currently controls parts of Syrian provinces of Aleppo, Raqqa and Hasakah, in addition to supporting militants in Idlib.
The Kurdish militias in Syria, known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), had united with the US in their fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS). In 2019, U.S. troops hastily withdrew from the area shortly before the Turkish invasion. They withdrew from the major cities of Raqqa and Manbij, and the Syrian army and Russian military police replaced them.
Neither Damascus nor Moscow have commented on developments so far.