“We’II move the process — which we started with the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations forward to a different phase very soon,” said Erdogan, Presstv Reported.
He was referring to the two military offensives Ankara launched in 2016 and 2017 against the Kurdish militants of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) operating at its doorstep on Syrian soil. Turkey views the YPG as a terror group linked to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey for decades.
“Turkey has the right to eliminate all threats against its national security,” the Turkish head of state added.
Erdogan said his country would have to pay a heavy price if it fails to take what it describes as necessary measures in northern Syria, adding, “Drying up the terrorist swamp in northern Syria is our top priority.”
Ankara and Washington have long been at odds over the latter’s support for the Kurdish militants in Syria.
The US — along with Turkey and the EU — has branded the PKK as a terrorist organization, but considers the YPG to be an ally in the purported fight against Daesh terrorists. Ankara’s calls for Washington to stop arming the Kurdish militants have fallen on deaf ears despite the collapse of Daesh in Syria.
To soothe Turkey’s concerns, Washington has proposed creation of a five-kilometer (three-mile)-long buffer zone in northern Syria that would keep the YPG away from Turkey’s borders.
Ankara, however, is unimpressed by the extent of the area and wants the militants to stay farther away from the Turkish soil.
“Turkey expects steps from the US befitting of a NATO ally and strategic partner,” Erdogan said, referring to the Western military alliance, to which both Ankara and Washington are parties.
Reacting to Ankara’s plan for a new military offensive, which was first announced by Erdogan on the weekend, the US said it believed any unilateral action by them would be unacceptable.”
“And so what we are trying to do now is work out with them an arrangement to address their concerns and I am hopeful we will get there... what we are trying to do is prevent unilateral incursions,” US Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters in Tokyo on a trip through Asia.
Esper said the US did not have any “ambition” to abandon the Kurdish militants in Syria, but stopped short of guaranteeing that the US would protect them in case of a Turkish operation.
Damascus views both the Turkish and American interventions as illegal, and says it reserves its right to defend its sovereignty.