Turkey is ready to rid northern Syria's Tal Rifaat and Manbij areas, near the Turkish border, of terrorist elements in a bid to eliminate the terror threat from the region, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday.
"We are taking another step in establishing a 30-kilometer security zone along our southern border. We will clean up Tal Rifaat and Manbij", he said adding that the planned military operations will gradually continue in other parts of northern Syria.
His comments, in a speech to lawmakers from his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the capital Ankara, came a week after he pledged a new military operation on Turkey's southern border targeting the U.S.-backed YPG, which is the Syrian branch of the PKK terror group.
Erdoğan has said as the United States and Russia failed to live up to their commitments to provide such a safe zone in the border region, Turkey is ready to mount an operation to protect the nation and locals in northern Syria from the YPG/PKK terrorist threat.
In October 2019, Russia expressed commitment to removing the terrorist group from Tal Rifaat and Manbij after reaching an agreement with Turkey during Operation Peace Spring. Moscow also promised that the terrorists would be removed 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the border on the M4 road and in the area outside the Operation Peace Spring area.
Likewise, then-U.S. Vice President Mike Pence pledged to Turkey that the YPG/PKK terror group would withdraw from the region of Operation Peace Spring.
The YPG has controlled much of northeastern Syria after the forces of Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad withdrew in 2012. The PKK is a designated terrorist organization in the United States, Turkey and the European Union, and Washington's support for its Syrian affiliate has been a major strain on bilateral relations with Ankara. The U.S. primarily partnered with the YPG in northeastern Syria in its fight against the Daesh terrorist group. On the other hand, Turkey strongly opposed the YPG's presence in northern Syria. Ankara has long objected to the U.S.' support for the YPG, a group that poses a threat to Turkey and that terrorizes local people, destroying their homes and forcing them to flee.
While acknowledging Turkey’s security concerns, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price has voiced concerns about Turkey’s plans, saying a new operation could undermine regional stability and put American forces at risk.
Ankara has launched several cross-border operations into Syria since 2016 and controls some territories in the north with the goal of pushing away the YPG and establishing a 30-kilometer (19-mile) deep safe zone where Erdoğan hopes to “voluntarily” return Syrian refugees. Since 2016, Turkey has launched a trio of successful anti-terror 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).
In 2019, an operation into northeast Syria against the YPG drew widespread international condemnation, prompting Finland, Sweden and others to restrict arms sales to Turkey. Now Turkey is blocking the two Nordic countries' historic bid to join NATO because of the weapons ban and their support for the terror group.
Turning to Finland and Sweden's bid to join NATO, Erdoğan reiterated Turkey's objection to the move, saying both countries have supported and provided safe haven to terrorists, including members of the YPG/PKK and others.
Sweden and Finland have not yet provided Turkey with any concrete responses meeting its expectations, and NATO is an organization of security, not a body supporting terrorism, said Erdoğan.
"How can Turkey approve of the Swedish and Finnish NATO bids given that the terror affiliates "freely roam, hold rallies there?" he asked, stressing that Ankara expects European countries to act sincerely and address its concerns.
Dismissing the PKK/YPG strategy of adopting different names, the president said some circles are seeking to whitewash the terrorist PKK by tricking people with numerous labels, but they are fooling themselves, not Turkey.
Sweden and Finland formally applied to join NATO on May 18, a decision spurred by Russia's war on Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24. But Turkey, a longstanding member of the alliance, has voiced objections to their membership bids, criticizing the countries for tolerating and even supporting terrorist groups. Their accession requires unanimous approval from all 30 NATO member states.