Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to order a ground invasion of northern Syria targeting Kurdish groups, amid years of border violence and repeated Turkish incursions.
Turkey has in recent days launched a flurry of airstrikes on suspected militant targets in northern Syria and Iraq, in retaliation for the deadly November 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on Kurdish groups. The groups have denied any involvement in the attack.
Ankara’s allies, particularly Russia, have tried to avoid a ground incursion, but Erdogan said in a speech to lawmakers from his ruling party in Ankara on Wednesday that air operations are “just the beginning” and that Turkey is determined to “close all of our southern borders … with a security strip that will prevent the possibility of attacks on our country.”
Turkey has carried out a series of incursions into Syria since 2016 and already controls parts of northern Syria. Erdogan said the new military offensive, scheduled to take place “at the most opportune time for us”, would target the regions of Tel Rifaat, Manbij and Kobani, also known by its Arabic name Ayn Al Arab.
“The day is near when these concrete tunnels that terrorists use for their safety will become their graves,” he said.
The commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northeast Syria has said his group is ready to repel a ground invasion by Turkey.
SDF leader Mazloum Abdi told The Associated Press that his group has been preparing for another such attack since Turkey launched a ground offensive in the region in 2019 and “we believe we have reached a level where we can thwart any new attack. At least the Turks won’t be able to occupy more of our regions and there will be a big battle.”
He added: “If Turkey attacks one region, the war will spread to all regions…and everyone will suffer.”
After the weekend airstrikes, Turkish officials said suspected Kurdish militants fired rockets Monday across the Syrian border into Turkey, killing at least two people and injuring 10 others. Abdi denied that the SDF struck inside Turkish territory.
Russian presidential envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentyev said Turkey should “show some restraint” in order to prevent an escalation in Syria and expressed hope that “it will be possible to convince our partners Turks to refrain from excessive use of force on Syrian territory”. “
Mazloum called on Moscow and Damascus, as well as the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria, with which Kurdish fighters in the region have allied themselves, to take a tougher stance to prevent a ground invasion Turkey, warning that such an action could harm attempts to counter the resurgence of IS.
“We can say that our work against ISIS with the international coalition has stopped, as we are concerned about the Turkish attacks,” he said. “Our coordination and work with the Russians on the ground has also been affected by the Turkish attacks.”
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