Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country will launch an air and ground operation east of the Euphrates in Syria after a deadline to jointly establish a so-called safe zone with the US passed.
“We gave all warnings to our interlocutors regarding the east of Euphrates and we have acted with sufficient patience,” Erdogan said at the opening of his AK Party’s annual camp on Saturday.
“We’ve made our preparations, we’ve made our operation plans, given the necessary instructions,” he added.
Erdogan noted that Turkey would the military operations “as soon as today or tomorrow”.
The announcement came after he said on Tuesday that Ankara’s patience with the US over the creation of the “safe zone” had run out and it had no choice but to act alone to push back militants from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from border areas given the lack of progress made with the US.
Commenting on Erdoga n’s Saturday remarks, the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spearheaded by the YPG militia warned that it would “not hesitate to turn any unprovoked (Turkish) attack into an all-out war” to defend the region it holds in northeast Syria.
In August, the US and Turkey agreed to set up the militant-free buffer zone to the east of the Euphrates River between the Turkish border and Syrian areas controlled by US-backed Kurdish militias, which Ankara views as terrorists affiliated with the homegrown Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group.
Erdogan has given the US until the end of September a deadline for concrete results on the development of a purported safe zone on Turkey’s border with Syria.
The two sides are at odds over the depth of the zone and who should control it.
Turkey expects the creation of a 32-kilometer (20-mile) safe zone in northern Syria, and has stressed that it wants the US-backed YPG cleared from the region.
Syria has reiterated its rejection of the so-called safe area, and dismissed all projects aimed at undermining the unity and territorial integrity of the country.
Last week, Russia said it was observing closely the Turkish plans on the zone.
Addressing reporters on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov emphasized that Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved.
Erdogan’s most direct indication of an incursion comes as Turkey-backed militants fighting in Syria promised on Friday to support Ankara’s possible attack into northeast Syria.
“When it comes to the east of the Euphrates (river) … it is our duty to fight,” Salim Idris, a senior commander of the Turkey-backed Syrian militants, told a press conference in southeast Turkey.
“We stand in full force in support of our Turkish brothers in fighting all forms of terrorism represented by the PKK gangs.”