Türkiye is more determined than ever to secure its Syrian border from attacks by PKK-linked YPG terrorists, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday, insisting that a ground operation would start "at the most convenient time."
Erdoğan, who was making a speech to his ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) lawmakers in Parliament, has signaled a possible ground operation against the YPG forces in Syria after retaliatory strikes escalated along the Syrian border in recent days.
Türkiye's air operation in northern Iraq and Syria to clear the regions of terrorists is "just the beginning," Erdoğan said, adding that the country will launch a ground operation in Syria "when convenient."
"Our operations with planes, cannons and drones are only the beginning. Our determination to secure all our southern border ... with a safe zone is stronger today than ever before," Erdoğan said.
"While we press ahead with air raids uninterrupted, we will crack down on terrorists also by land at the most convenient time for us," he said.
Türkiye has remained faithful to its promises regarding the borders of Syria and has every right to take care of its own problems in northern Syria while others did not fulfill their promises, he said, possibly referring to the previous promises by the United States and Russia in the region.
"If our interlocutors cannot fulfill the requirements of the agreement, we have the right to take care of ourselves."
The president specified northern Syria's YPG-controlled Tal Rifaat, Manbij and Ain al-Arab (Kobani) regions as possible targets to clear of terrorists.
"We have formed part of this corridor (and) will take care of it starting with places such as Tal Rifaat, Manbij and Ain al-Arab, which are the sources of trouble," he underlined.
The PKK/YPG mostly carries out terrorist attacks in Manbij, Ain al-Arab and the Tal Rifaat district of Aleppo. The terrorist group uses those areas as bases for its attacks.
Erdoğan said Türkiye has the power to catch and punish terrorists inside and outside borders who are involved in attacks against the country and the nation.
He added that Iraqi and Syrian administrations should not feel uneasy with the operation since the country's only aim is to protect the security of its nation, as well as the people of the neighboring countries.
"No one can prevent or stand up against us to draw the security line to the place where it should be, where these attacks on our borders and our citizens continue," Erdoğan stressed.
Türkiye has made separate agreements with the United States and Russia for the withdrawal of PKK/YPG elements as the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) were carrying out Operation Peace Spring, which began on Oct. 9, 2019, in northern Syria. After pledging the withdrawal of PKK/YPG elements from the 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) south of the Turkish border in line with agreements, the U.S. and Russia have failed to keep their promises for two and a half years.
During a visit to Türkiye by then-U.S. Vice President Mike Pence eight days into Operation Peace Spring, the U.S. pledged that the terrorist group would withdraw 32 kilometers south from the border, but Washington did not fulfill its commitment. Russia also committed to the removal of the terrorist group from Tal Rifaat and Manbij under an agreement reached with Türkiye during Operation Peace Spring.
Early Sunday, Türkiye launched Operation Claw-Sword, a cross-border aerial campaign against the PKK terrorist group and its Syrian wing, the YPG, which have illegal hideouts across the Iraqi and Syrian borders where they plan attacks on Turkish soil. The country's air operation followed a PKK/YPG terrorist attack on Nov. 13 on Istanbul's crowded Istiklal Street that killed six people and left 81 injured.
Türkiye eliminated 254 PKK/YPG terrorists as part of its cross-border air operation in northern Iraq and Syria, the country's national defense minister also said early Wednesday.
"So far, 471 targets have been targeted in the operation, and 254 terrorists have been neutralized," Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said at the operations center of the Land Forces Command in the capital Ankara.
"Terrorists have despicably attacked civilian targets. We will silence them as soon as possible," Akar added.
Ankara only targets terrorists and their hideouts during the operation, Akar reiterated, saying: "We do not have any problems with any ethnic, religious or sectarian group, or with our Kurdish or Arab brothers."
After the air operation was launched, President Erdoğan also signaled a ground operation to northern Iraq and northern Syria to eliminate the terror threat, saying: "This is not limited to just an air operation."
The Turkish leader has threatened a new military operation into northern Syria since May and upped those threats in the wake of this month's attack. Erdoğan has repeatedly called for a 30-kilometer "safe zone" to protect Türkiye against cross-border attacks from Syrian territory.
Türkiye responded to the recent Istanbul terrorist attack by destroying targets of the terrorist organization in northern Iraq and Syria, Erdoğan also said Tuesday, vowing to root out terrorism posing a threat to national security.
"We have been bearing down on the terrorists for a few days with our planes, cannons and guns," Erdoğan said in his speech. "God willing, we will root out all of them as soon as possible, together with our tanks, our soldiers."
"We know the identity, location and track record of the terrorists. We also know very well who patronizes, arms and encourages terrorists," Erdoğan said, implying the U.S. support for the YPG.
Türkiye sees the PKK and the YPG as the same terrorist group and has called on countries, especially the United States, to cut all support to the terrorists, Akar also reiterated Tuesday.
On the same day, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu also said that the YPG terrorists wanted to establish "a terrorist state around us, we could not allow that. Protecting our borders and our nation is our responsibility and duty."
The PKK is a designated terrorist organization in the U.S., Türkiye and the European Union, and Washington's support for its Syrian affiliate has been a major strain on bilateral relations with Ankara. The PKK/YPG has controlled much of northeastern Syria after the forces of Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad withdrew in 2012. The U.S. primarily partnered with PKK/YPG terrorists in northeastern Syria in its fight against the Daesh terrorist group. On the other hand, Türkiye strongly opposed the PKK/YPG's presence in northern Syria.
Under the pretext of fighting Daesh, the U.S. has provided military training and given truckloads of military support to the PKK/YPG, despite its NATO ally's security concerns. Underlining that one cannot support one terrorist group to defeat another, Türkiye conducted its counterterrorism operations, throughout which it has managed to remove a significant number of terrorists from the region.
Since 2016, Ankara has launched a trio of successful counterterrorism operations across its border in northern Syria to prevent the formation of a terror corridor and enable the peaceful settlement of residents: Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018) and Peace Spring (2019).