President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey will carry out an air and ground military operation east of the Euphrates River in Syria, his most direct indication of an incursion since Ankara and Washington decided to establish a “safe zone”. Absent John Bolton who held the reins of support for the YPG Kurdish separatists, Turkey threatens to invade Syria.
The operation could start as soon as Saturday or Sunday, he said.
The NATO allies have agreed to establish a zone on the Syrian border that Turkey says should stretch 30 km (19 miles) into Syria. Turkey conditioned that the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which it considers a terrorist organization, be clear from the “safe zone”.
U.S. AND TURKEY ARE AT ODDS
Recently, Turkey has accused the United States of moving too slowly to set up the zone. The two countries are also at odds over how far it should extend into Syria and who should control it. The U.S. supports the YPG-led force that defeated Islamic State fighters in Syria. But with its most ardent champion out of power, President Trump might just ignore Turkey’s threats all together.
Erdogan told his supporters that Turkey aims to “water the east of Euphrates with fountains of peace”, and re-settle Syrians who escaped to Turkey during the Syrian Revolution. Erdogan was speaking at the opening of his AK Party’s annual camp.
The Turkish President said:
We gave all warnings to our interlocutors regarding the east of Euphrates and we have acted with sufficient patience. We’ve made our preparations, we’ve completed our operation plans, given the necessary instructions,” he said, adding that Turkey would carry out air and ground actions and these could start “as soon as today or tomorrow”.
The Turkish people are vehemently anti-Kurdish because of years of hostilities and violence.
Turkey says it wants to repatriate up to 2 million Syrian refugees in the zone. It has repeatedly warned of unilateral military action if it is not satisfied with progress.
If successful, this will be the first real effort by any country to repatriate the Syrian people and protect them from Assad terror. Turkey also plans to open three faculties, affiliated with Gaziantep University, in northern Syria.
Turkey-backed Syrian rebels pledged on Friday to back a potential cross-border offensive to help establish the “safe zone”.
Reuters contributed to this article.